Graduation evokes memories.
My daughter graduated from high school last year. It was an exciting and scary time. Everybody talks about the excitement, but it seems not many people talk about the fear. I remember 18. I remember graduating from high school. I knew where I was going to college, but I didn’t really know what it would be like. I had visited the campus many times for cheerleaders camps and football games, but I didn’t really know what it would be like to live in a dorm with a roommate I didn’t know. There is such a thing as fear of the unknown. That didn’t mean I wasn’t excited. I was very excited to be going off to college. I was excited to make new friends. I was excited that I wasn’t doing “13th grade,” which is what we call it when people go to college with lots of their friends from high school. However, I didn’t really know what was ahead of me.
When I look back at pictures from this time last year, I remember my daughter and I were preparing to attend her college orientation. Yes, I had to go to orientation simply so she wouldn’t look like an orphan. Apparently, parents going to orientation is popular now, unlike when I went in the 80s. Do I need to remind you that I drove myself to orientation without my parents? I drove without GPS or a cell phone. I just looked at the map before I left and figured it out. We came home from our daughter’s orientation and tried to enjoy the summer, but even though I don’t think of our daughter as an anxious person, there was trepidation. She was looking forward to everything college life offered, but wondering what to expect, and it showed itself in tears and agitation.
All that freshman year college stuff is behind us now. I look at my daughter’s friends who are preparing to go to college, and I remember what it was like at my house last year. She was nervous. She was scared but wouldn’t admit it. She was fearing the unknown a bit. Therefore, I am reminding parents that it’s not all rainbows and confetti. Going off to college is a big deal. I feel like our daughter learned more in her first year of college than in any other year since toddlerhood. I’m not even including the academics! I mean she learned more about life, in general. She developed more problem-solving skills. She developed more time-management skills. She learned more about taking care of herself and her friends. She learned about living away from home. And she survived it! She not only survived, but she thrived!
And you know what? It’s stressful for them! They might not process it as stress, but the stress is there, and it takes a toll on their bodies. They often live around a lot more people than when they are home, so all kinds of germs are passed around. They end up sick. My daughter had strep throat for the first time since she was a kid. She had the flu for the first time since she was 11. She had a horrible skin infection that started from a heel blister. She was in a car accident. All of that = stress. I’m no psychologist or counselor, but I could see the effects of the stress.
What I’m telling you is you should be happy and excited about your child’s college experience. At the same time, know you are going to get those phone calls. “Mom, I’ve been in an accident.” “Mom, I think I have a fever.” “Mom, should I go to the doctor about this wound on my heel?” You’ll be far away, so you can offer guidance, but you’re not there. They have to actually take care of business. And you know what? They will.
In most cases, they will pull themselves together and get things done. Most of them will make it to class on a regular basis. Most of them will weather the storm. Some of them might not make it academically the first time around, but does that mean they are doomed to failure? No. I have a friend who failed out of college our sophomore year. She went back a few years later and graduated before going on to law school and graduating at the top of her class. Another friend had a 1.6 GPA at the end of his first semester of freshman year. He buckled down the next semester and succeeded at Duke, going on to medical school.
Just remember: we have to trust them but guide them. If at first they don’t succeed, they can try again. They are going to have missteps along the way, and they will learn from them. Just like Elon Musk told the world after a recent failed rocket launch; he reminded us SpaceX will learn from the mistakes on the failed launch and apply that knowledge to the next one.
Keep smiling, moms and dads. Sometimes, they just need to see we, the parents, are calm. It’s a bit like taking a child to the pediatrician when they are sick. Often, the parents just need reassurance. Many times, that’s what our college-age kids need too.
Congratulations to all the 2023 high school graduates…the ones who are going to college, the ones who are taking a gap year, the ones who are learning a trade, the ones entering military service, and the ones who are going into the work force! I celebrate them all! It might sound like I’m only celebrating the ones going to college, but that’s certainly not the case. I’m simply drawing on my own experience. But if your child is entering the workforce or entering military service or taking a gap year or going to trade school, you’re worrying about them just the same.
Fasten your seat belts, moms and dads. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.