Today I traveled 2,326 miles to drop off my youngest daughter for her freshman year of college. After a few days helping her get settled and procuring a mattress pad, a desk lamp, and other dorm-room necessities, I’ll get on a plane and return home, leaving her here, 2,326 miles away from me.
Perhaps you can tell I’m a bit anxious about this? The fact that my 17-year-old will be that far away has been looming over me all summer, dimming a bit of the summer brightness. But she’s excited and the school she’s attending, by all accounts, seems like a great fit. So… what I’m left to do is pretend I have some control over the outcome of her first semester, her first year, her college life, her future. And, so, we talk. And I’ll write her a sappy letter that I’ll leave under her pillow.
The series I started in the spring called “Conversations Before College” feels even more important now. Of course, I still feel like there’s not enough time for all the conversations I want to have. With our physical separation imminent, I will have to take solace in the expectation of Facetime chats, notes, and texts so we can continue these conversations DURING college!
Over coffee this week, our conversation was about friends and activities. I shared with her that it wasn’t until I came to work at camp the summer after my sophomore year that I found my “people.” I stumbled along in college trying to fit in when, to be frank, I just didn’t. I think I looked like I fit in on the outside, but I was mostly faking it. Working outdoors at summer camp, with people who love fun and kids, was where I eventually found my closest peers. In hindsight, I should have gravitated towards clubs and activities with outdoorsy, kid-focused people, but I didn’t know who I was when I started college. I guess that’s one of the big challenges of going: being so darn young and not having a true sense of self. But I see in my daughter a lot more clarity in knowing herself than I had at her age, so I am hopeful that she’ll do better than I did at finding her tribe, her people, her life-long friends.
One of my favorite long-time staff members at camp, who is uniquely upbeat and marches to her own drum, shared with me how hard it was for her to find friends in college. When being yourself doesn’t fit into the typical college “scene,” it’s more of a challenge to find a place where you belong.
One of our camp’s core values is “Being You.” That sounds so simple, but in this photo-shopped, conform-or-else world, the message everyone seems to get is “fit in.” In college, fitting-in often leads to feeling bad – hung over, alone, depressed. Or worse – assaulted, alienated. When you expend a lot of energy being someone you’re not, that just isn’t good, at any phase in life.
What I want my daughter to find in college are friends who know and love her for who she is and with whom she can be her true goofy self. As I send her off, I pray that she’ll connect with a few (even just one or two) life-long friends who will love and support her through her college years.
Resources/Related/Things to Make You Cry While Dropping off Your Child at College: