On The College Drop-Off

On The College Drop-Off

by Kent Hickey, author of 40 Days with God

I still keep acorns in my coat pockets. It’s a habit that reminds me of visits to parks when our kids were little. They loved sneaking acorns into my pockets and then running away laughing as if they had pulled off some grand caper. I remember one time when all this was going on and I caught the eye of an older gentleman as he walked by. "Enjoy it while you can,” he said. “This time passes fast."

It has. A truth punctuated by our first college drop off. This was certainly a big moment for our daughter, one that could only have been eclipsed, I imagine, by the even bigger moment when I gave her my highly anticipated and much practiced, “Dad’s Wisdom for College” talk. 

A college drop off veteran had told me that it is best to not impart this wisdom at the actual drop off moment. (Something about the difficulty of stringing words into sentences.) So I gave my advice a few days before we drove her to college. And, knowing that such talks trigger a flight response in the daughter, I found the perfect setting: A trip to the grocery store, doors locked and car in motion.

Introverts draw energy from solitude. Extroverts draw it from company. Know who you are and find your balance.

Dads are awesome; boys are not.  Always do what Dad would think is right. Never do what a boy thinks is right. 

Do something physical every day. It doesn’t detract from studies, it enhances them.

The single most stupid thing done in college is almost always done while drunk. And, while getting high on marijuana may not necessarily lead to doing stupid things, it will lead to not doing much of anything. Don’t be stupid.

God has been a friend in your life every day, whether you’ve known it or not. Bring your friend to college with you and spend time with your friend every day.

You will never really leave your home.

It’s hard to say what the daughter took from these pearls, especially with all the other messages, often mixed, that young people hear as they prepare to head off for college: Explore and find yourself, but not at the expense of earning a marketable degree. Meet new people, take risks, just be ever mindful of all those sexual assaults on campus. Become a lover of learning for learning’s sake without worrying about grades, though they may decide your future. 

There’s no doubt that going to college and starting life is harder on young people today than it used to be. It’s a job that starts well before senior year in high school. The job continues at the drop off, which is no longer a perfunctory exercise. There are days of orientation – talks, dinners and sharing of feelings.

And that’s just for the parents. Heck, the president of my daughter’s college even gave out his personal phone number to parents just in case we needed to call him in the middle of the night. (I do the same thing with parents at my high school, but this guy apparently uses his real number.) I’ve never felt so nurtured, or exhausted. 

I have a pretty good idea what my parents’ generation would have thought of all of this. When my folks drove me from Kalamazoo to Milwaukee for my freshman year we had one stop along the way (Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha) and, upon arrival at Marquette, went straight to my dorm room where we quickly deposited the contents of my one suitcase. Mom gave me hug, dad a handshake, we all commented on the odor from the local pig rendering factory, and they were gone. Oh sure, I had an orientation. It was provided that very night courtesy of two sailors who tried to mug me while walking back to my dorm. I ran away and hid in a dumpster.

Yes, a lot has changed. But one thing hasn't. That actual leaving moment is just really hard. We followed a friend's sound advice, "Walk away and don't look back." Right before we walked away the daughter slipped an acorn into my hand. I'm glad I had already said all that I wanted to say. I couldn't talk anymore.

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