College Daze

By Gwyn Lurie   |   September 13, 2022

From the day our children are born, we begin the process of teaching them everything they need to know so that one day they can leave home. And then, they do. Little ingrates!

Like so many parents, I took my firstborn daughter to college last week. I flew across the country and dropped her off to room and study (and God-knows what else) with total strangers who will likely, in no time, be her lifelong friends. And then I said goodbye to my beautiful daughter to whom I was incapable of articulating all that I would have wanted to say without collapsing into a sobbing pathetic pile of mush.

“Are you okay?” She asked me. “Of course, I’m okay,” I lied. But what mattered was that she was okay. Because we spent 18 years making that so. And then I walked away from my nearly grown-up daughter. But not before making her bed. 

Don’t get me wrong, I could not be prouder of my (not so) little girl (pc term: young woman) who worked very hard to get into the college of her choice.

So why do I feel such a sense of loss about something that is so overwhelmingly positive? And why, as I wait for her call, do I hear the lyrics to “Cat’s in the Cradle” running through my head on a taunting loop?

These past few years have been filled with so many challenges – the debris flow. The perpetual evacuations. Two years at home doing high school remotely during the pandemic. And then watching her try to tell a coherent story in her college applications about how she’d been extraordinarily productive during her high school years. (In all fairness, she did manage to get through all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls in record time.)

So much about these last few years has been so stressful. And I don’t know about you, but I feel like as a parent, I put most of my energy into “getting through this time” rather than enjoying and soaking up every last minute with my daughter. And now that I sit at home, with a deafening silence emanating from her bedroom, I think about the whirlwind that, in many ways, began the day she was born and culminated with me dropping her off at college. Not knowing if she will ever again live at home with us in any permanent way. I suppose it’s all normal and healthy and beautiful and right but really, really hard. Because she’s still, and always, to me, the little girl who wouldn’t let me leave her side at preschool class until well after Thanksgiving.

During the 18 hours that it took for me to get home from the East Coast (there’s a special place in hell for the airlines), I had plenty of time between Dunkin’ Donuts to think about what this all means. And I wrote down my thoughts to send to my daughter, which I did. For whatever these thoughts are worth, I wanted to also share some of them with the other young people in our community, and the moms and dads who are going through this same beautiful but challenging rite of passage. These are some of the things that I wish someone had said to me before I started college, not realizing I would never again in my life have that kind of freedom and opportunity to learn about anything under the sun. A privilege I recognized only in retrospect.

While dropping my daughter off at school I had the chance to listen to her university’s president speak about his hopes for the incoming students. And so much of it resonated with me. Here are my thoughts, some of which were inspired by his:

Over the next four (or five or six) years you will likely be surrounded by some of the most interesting, smart people you will ever know. You will have the chance to learn about things that you never even knew existed. And many of the things you will learn will be completely by accident. And that is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of your next chapter!

What I wish for you:

1) That you discover what you love.

To do that, you will have to open your heart and mind to learning; take courses in things that you might not be “good at.” Yet. You can’t know this now, but you will never again in your life have this kind of chance to simply learn.

2) That you get much better at what you love.

You are arriving at college with lots of talent. And there are already things you’re good at. But like every other student, you can be much better at whatever it is you decide you love. And that will take hard work. I hope you’ll lean into that challenge. That you will not be afraid of working hard. That you will not panic when you arrive at a mountain that feels too tall to scale. That you will gather all the equipment you need and that one step at a time you will climb that mountain. And I promise, when you get to the top, you will look around and see the most beautiful view of life imaginable.

3) Finally, I wish for you that you will take whatever it is that you love, and you will go out into the world and do meaningful work.

There is nothing better in life than doing what you love and having that thing add meaningfully to the world. Whatever work you do you will likely have to work hard. But to work hard at something you love is the greatest gift in the world. It means that work will never just feel like work. 

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said: “Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

At the ripe old age of none of your business, I would agree with the good coach.  


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