Here’s to New Chapters

I’ve been thinking about momentous occasions lately. The end of summer brings a lot of them. One grandchild began 3K just about the time another officially became a college freshman.

Just a few boxes filled with essential items for college life

I shared some thoughts about the start of college about this time last year. You can read those here and here. It suddenly got a lot more personal this year as one of those college freshmen is my eldest grandchild. Her life is about to change in ways she nor her parents can imagine.

. . . and in a flash, the younger sister becomes an only child, so to speak.

Naturally, my mind hearkens back to my own graduation summer and college freshman fall. Letters passed between three soon-to-be roommates. Who were we? What clothes should we pack? How should we decorate our dorm room? I was nothing but ecstatic and expectant. For years, I’d spent most of my summers away at one 4-H camp or another, so the notion of homesickness never occurred to me. I was only looking forward. My mood didn’t alter all summer.

Then came the big day, our family of five and all my luggage crammed in my parents’ car for the four-hour trip to the college of my choice. I sat on the right-hand side of the back seat in the soft pink shirtwaist dress trimmed with deeper pink hand-embroidered stitching on the collar edge and both sides of the collar-to-hem button placket. All hand-made by Mother. It was one of my favorites, a dress to help me put my best foot forward as I entered my new life.

It was only when directional signs to my school appeared, just a couple of miles from our destination, that I started to freak. Totally unexpected, my tummy brimmed with butterflies. While I was still mostly excited about what the future held for me, a tiny but powerful part was ready to turn around and head back home. Had I been on my own, I might have done just that.

I’m so glad turning around wasn’t an option. Even as the heady anticipation of that summer evolved into all-night exam cramming sessions, even as the grades I was used to in high school eluded me, even as idealism turned to reality and sometimes cynicism, even as I endured the agony of heartbreak, I had found my place. Not once did I consider giving up.

At most, I traveled home for school holidays and summer breaks. On occasion, I even stayed at school during shorter breaks. I appreciated the solitude of a dorm and campus empty of the hustle-bustle of daily student life. I could read for pleasure, reflect, organize, take solitary strolls through my favorite spots, daydream. There wasn’t much time for those things the rest of the school year.

I discovered new passions during my college years. I set out on a career path, though it morphed and morphed again in my post-college years. I learned what mattered to me. I discovered independence. Ideas jelled into philosophies. I found love. I lost love. I found it again. I survived. I learned that I could.

It’s not that I think college years are the best years of one’s life, a sentiment I’ve heard so many times. How depressing to hit twenty-one and think all the best times are behind you. No, I see those college years as a unique time, a time to grow, a time to explore, a time to discover what you’re made of. If all goes reasonably well, it’s a time to look back on with fond nostalgia, not as the best time of life but as one that holds sweet memories and provided important building blocks for the life to come.

As we said I goodbyes, I wished I could find the wisdom and the words to give my granddaughter the most brilliant piece of advice, the pithiest sentiment. In the end, all I could do was give her a hug and say, “I love you.”

I wish my granddaughter and all her fellow college freshmen the very best college has to offer, hopefully with only a few disappointments, though those are important to growth, too. Sometimes it’s our mistakes that define us; hard as they are, we need a few along the way. It’s what we do with them that matters.

Here’s to you, Starshine!

 

 

Move-In Day

Move-In Day

(Written on Saturday, August 19, 2017)

move in 5 better

It’s Move-In Day at the local college. Traffic has been a mess all week as students who live off campus, as well as student advisors and others with pre-move-in responsibilities, clog the roads for miles around. Roadside signs directing parents and new students to this or that area of campus begin several miles beyond town.

The campus itself is dotted with temporary identification and directional signage. Campus security personnel and ROTC students direct on-campus traffic while other staff, including my nearest neighbor, are on hand to help carry suitcases, boxes, and carts full of bedding and other necessities to dorm rooms—this being their fourteenth straight day on the job. They’ve been hectically sprucing up those same rooms and making sure all maintenance issues have been resolved in preparation for this weekend for weeks. 

Dorm parking lots are full of loaded pick-up trucks and rental trailers as parents help their fledglings move in. I’ve seen license tags from places as far away as New Hampshire, Texas, and Colorado. We’re used to out-of-staters. After all, we’re a tourist town as well as a college town, but the prevalence of far flung tags has been greater for the last few days. DSCF9247_LI

Students fill the campus and downtown sidewalks in groups of twos, threes, and fives. It’s an exhilerating time. Freshmen are getting acquainted with their roommates and other newbies. Their shared excitement, nervousness, and uncertainty creates an instant and strong bond. Upperclassmen are eager for reunions with friends. Some are all aflutter at the prospect of being back together with sweethearts after months apart. For a few, the start of the new year is bittersweet, having said sad good-byes to their steadies back home, but eager to greet friends and decorate their rooms.

Parking lots and dorm rooms are scenes for a fair share of teary-eyed goodbyes, but for the most part the damp cheeks belong to parents. More students than not are virtually shoving their families out the door. They want Mom and Dad to stop with the bed-making and drawer-filling and advice-giving. They want to get on with it. This is their time.

It’s a weekend unlike any other. No classes, no assignments. It’s get-acquainted time. Settle-in time. A few hours of relaxation with no academic stresses. Still, minds are a little muddled for many freshmen, who have more-than-ever moments of feeling like little kids on the inside while trying with all their might to be all grown up on the outside. Their innermost feelings and fears will not be spoken aloud.

Today is all about hope. It’s the beginning of a fresh start. Freshmen, especially, have a chance to make themselves anew, if they choose. No baggage follows them here. No one knows their academic, family, or personal backgrounds. They can scout out other like-minded folks; there are clubs and organizations aplenty for exploring new ideas and finding expression for their deepest interests. (In fact, some of these kids will be unrecognizable on their first weekend home—with radical hair colors and styles, tats in unlikely places, piercings on improbable body parts, and strange new ideas. They may sport heretofore unknown wardrobes to announce their current status.)

Meanwhile, vendors conglomerate just beyond the school’s boundaries to hawk mini-fridges, carpet remnants, and college-themed products for student rooms. Restaurants, retail stores, and churches display signs that say things like “Welcome Back” or “Welcome, Students.” One was different. It simply said, “Welcome Home.” In a microsecond I was transported to my own college days, and I realized this was the sign that got it right.

Even as a butterflies-in-the-stomach freshman, it was only a matter of days until I understood I’d found my home at my now alma mater. As I returned from semester and summer breaks for my next three years, I knew for certain I was coming home—home to roommates, classmates, hall parties (held for any reason or no reason at all). Home to favorite professors and classes for which I had a passion. Home to love interests, ball games, dances, bonfires, and concerts. Home to learning and my still unknown future. Of course, I still referred to that place from which I hailed as home, too, but it was my parents’ home. This was mine. All mine.

Welcome home, students!