It's occurred to me recently that I have had the best summer of my life. I hung around Oberlin for commencement, went on a successful and painless tour with a rock band for five weeks, and then worked at a small summer camp in the middle of nowhere in Maine for two months. This latter job was particularly enjoyable, as it kept me far away from electricity, running water, and the internet. (I did manage to contract pneumonia, a consequence of working outside 18 hours a day during the wettest June on record in Maine. But hey, no one bats 1000.)
I've spent the past few days sifting through eight weeks of back e-mails and am getting geared up to return to Oberlin next week to get the orientation issue of The Grape under way. I've also managed to barge in on my younger sister's preparations for her freshman year of college, a carnival of horrors if ever there was one. It's strange to view this process, since I now find myself with an outsider's view of the carnage, rather than experiencing it first-hand like I did three years ago. It's hectic, stressful, and chaotic, and while everyone is approaching it with good humor there are a few underlying anxieties that I've noticed. They mostly deal with the fear that there will be some kind of fundamental transformation in my sister's character. They are a bit irrational, if well intentioned, and they were also present when I was headed out the door. And I think they are fairly ubiquitous among the parents of rising freshmen. So I'd like to talk about those for a moment in the hopes that I may assuage the fears of some pre-frosh parents (including my own).
My sister looked up her soon-to-be roommate on Facebook to find that most photos of her prominently featured red plastic cups. And everyone's heard the stories about the bookish high school valedictorian who got to college and discovered a love for and aptitude in the hallowed field of binge drinking. So it's no surprise that the fear that nags at my parents the hardest is the one of their kids becoming unhinged party animals at college. I think the tendency to dwell on this, and similar concerns, is a natural product of sending kids away. College represents the first time that parents relinquish most of their control over their children, and I think that's really tough for a lot of people to deal with. Often, it seems that the impulse is to dwell on the negative, and I think that's an unfortunate way to spend the last few weeks of time you have with your kids before shipping them off to school.
So, in my capacity as interloper in my sister's final days at home, I like to cut short my parents' well-intentioned cries of "Oh goodness, please don't get too wild and crazy while you're away from home!" by reminding them to think positive. I use myself as an example: since coming to Oberlin, I've had countless once-in-a-lifetime opportunities come my way that I would never have dreamed of and did not anticipate. I've taken amazing classes; discovered a field that I love (politics) that I hadn't even considered majoring in; been able to study with Billy Hart, one of the greatest living jazz drummers; had a rock band get signed to an independent record label; worked as editor in chief of a campus newspaper; and, perhaps most important, met many wonderfully talented and intelligent people who have enriched my character and whom I will remain in touch with for the rest of my life. All this and a myriad of other opportunities await anyone headed off to college, and yet partying or bad boyfriends or "the freshmen 15" invariably dominate the discussion.
"Think Positive" is a good mantra on any day, but the lead-up to freshmen year is an especially important time for parents and kids alike to get excited for what lies ahead. Do yourselves a favor and resist the urge to worry and instead indulge your desire to fantasize, to ask "what will you be doing in two years? In five? In ten?" (This is as important for college freshmen as it is for their parents, of course.) The beautiful reality about college is that for every one thing that can go wrong, there are fifty things that can go right.