College An Emotional Rite of Passage
As the summer winds down, thousands of parents are preparing to send a
freshman off to college. It's an emotional rite of passage for everyone
concerned. I write as a veteran of such transitions. Our own two
children left for college two and three years ago. And each year I
welcome the new students and their parents in my role as president. Here
is part of what I tell the newcomers:
Greetings to the Class of
2004. I see before me seven hundred talented and bewildered students.
You seem nervous and excited and scared-all at the same time. That is
perfectly normal. Likewise, it is appropriate that your foremost concern
at this moment is getting mom and dad on the road and out of your hair.
that point, you parents need to depart at the appointed hour. However
traumatic it seems at the moment, letting go is a good thing-for parents
and child. After all, the most important attribute that parents can
instill in children is the ability to get along well without them. Don't
let us catch you living in your child's room. Last year, we did not
find one mother until the Christmas holidays! So do as we say and head
home-with our blessings. Your child is going to stay in touch you,
sometimes in peculiar ways. Last year, for instance, a freshman wrote
home, saying: "Dear Mom and Dad, I haven't heard from you in nearly a
month. Please send a check so I'll know that you're all right."
you students this is a defining moment, the start of a great adventure.
College involves an entirely new way of thinking and acting, and, of
course, a new way of living on your own and dealing with
Ah, to be a freshman again. A whole
year of unadulterated freedom. Beginning today, you will be able to
think, do, and act as you please. No one will tell you to go to bed or
to get up, to make your bed, wash the dishes, or do your homework. But
there is a catch. How you handle your new freedom will shape the rest of
You will discover, for instance, that bright young
people do not always behave in intelligent ways. For instance, it is not
wise to use your Master Card to pay off your VISA bill.
most common mistake that freshmen make is to become so intoxicated by
their new freedom and the enticing temptations of college life that they
quickly get behind in their schoolwork. Before they know it, they are
in a deep hole.
So remember what you're here for and be careful
about what you fall for. "Always do right," as Mark Twain suggested.
"This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
next four years we will do our best not to give you an education but to
help you seize one. In the process of stimulating your curiosity and
unleashing your potential, we want to help you understand the difference
between wisdom and intelligence, freedom and foolishness, convictions
This much we can ensure: if you make your
selections wisely, if you discover early on that your self-worth does
not rely on how much you drink or party late into the night, if you
recognize the benefits of not majoring in minor things, then you will
thrive in your new setting. So by all means get off to a good start. Set
aside study time each day-and when you study-really concentrate.
is great fun, but it is not painless. You will encounter discomforting
ideas, beliefs, attitudes, and personalities. At some point, you will
have to deal with homesickness, dating problems, roommate problems,
academic problems, financial problems, and parent problems. Learning to
deal with such differences is the mark of an educated and mature
As the days and weeks pass, I hope that we will
communicate openly and honestly and humanely with one another, that our
relationships with one another will go deeper than our masks of
acquaintance, and that we will develop some significant commitment to
rejoice together, struggle together, and to delight in each other.
assured that this learning community is going to become a bright thread
in the fabric of your life. We're glad you're here. Before long you
will recognize the wisdom in Robert Frost's observation: "If you have to
fall in love with something, you can do a lot worse than a college."