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Back to the Dorm

Year two of college is starting for my kid, and today is his move-in day. Some observations about this event:

  1. I know what to expect this year, so I have far fewer nerves (yes, it’s all about me!).
  2. He knows what to expect, so he packed less stuff (not that he had much last year).
  3. His father and I are taking him together, just like last year, in spite of being divorced for many years. I believe this is a good thing for all of us. He’s still our son and we’re still his parents. This transition, even if it isn’t the first time, is still kind of a big deal, and experiencing it all together validates that fact.
  4. I’m hopeful that I’ll handle year two of him being away better than year one. Year one found me a bit down in the dumps, teetering on the edge of depression. I don’t want to go back there. Yes, I know he’s close by, and yes, he’s been great about staying in touch (weekly dinners and everything) but something about him being out of the house just unsettled me. I’m hopeful that I react better this time around.
  5. I’m excited for him. He’s got this. He’s ready to go back and he’s ready for classes to begin and he’s ready to be more independent again. I’m happy for him.

The building he’s moving into is brand new. It’s built to house 1,600 students. Wow. I’m looking forward to seeing it in person, so far I’ve only gotten a sneak peek from the local news station. The kitchens on the floors are nicer than the one in my house, but I don’t see him using it much. There’s a fitness center in the building and 3-d printers and all sorts of other amenities. It’s a far cry from Gilbert 105, my first cinderblock-walled dorm room. Still, that old building was a wonderful place to make memories; I hope his new home is too.



The SAT and Me (Actually my Kid, but it Didn’t Rhyme)

Test-Prep-Focus-for-The-SAT-and-ACTIn a few hours my son will wake up and sharpen a few Number 2 pencils, then go off to take his SAT. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this particular phenomenon, the SAT is the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and in the U.S. it’s the biggie for college (or university) acceptance.

In addition to scrutinizing students’ academic records and reviewing their extracurricular activities, schools also look at their test scores to decide little things like whether or not to accept them and/or offer them various types of financial aid. Naturally the better a student scores, the more opportunities are likely to become available to him.

Realistically, in this country there are so many colleges and universities that virtually any student willing to fork over tuition money should be able to find a spot somewhere. The application process, including the whole SAT (or, in some cases, ACT – a similar test) exercise is really just to sort potential students into various tiers. Top universities want top students, so these exams are supposed to give them some feedback on who those top prospects might be. I get it. It still stresses me out a little.

Honestly, I think I get a little more worried about these types of things than my son does. I suppose it’s because I can see cause and effect relationships that can result from scoring well or not-so-well. To him it’s just another test, another hurdle he has to jump over in his high school career. I don’t know that he sees it as any more or less important than any other test. I mean I know that we’ve had conversations about it, but truthfully I don’t think they really made much impact. He’s had a lot on his mind, and this is just another thing on the list. Frankly, I think he’d rather skip it, but he knows it’s required, so he’ll do it.

It isn’t that I don’t think he’ll do well. I do. He’s bright and retains information really well. He has good test taking strategies, and good time management skills, and he’s been preparing. He knows the format of the test, and he has the ability to do well, if the practice sessions are any indication. He’s also a good test taker, meaning that he doesn’t get overly anxious. He’ll be just fine.

Over the years I’ve worked part-time administering standardized tests such as the SAT and I’ve seen thousands of students take them. Some come in nervously chewing on their pencils, others come in as though they’ve been up all night partying. There are flirty girls, nervously giggling, and beefy guys who look uncomfortable in a large lecture hall, and kids like my son. Kids who are regular nice high school kids trying to do their best so they can keep as many options open for their futures as possible. Kids who work hard and study, but also have other interests. Kids who want to do well, not only for themselves, but also to make their families proud. I always root for those kids. I always think those are the kids who are going to make a difference. I’m rooting for those kids today, but one of them is getting a little more of my support than usual. Show them what you’ve got, son.



Back in Time – Seeing College Through Old Eyes

Here I sit, in the middle of a busy student union in the pre-eight a.m. hour, watching the campus slowly shake itself awake. Students are starting to trickle through the common areas, which have been buzzing with activity,  anticipating them. The Starbucks line is still mercifully short, and most of the other food stations are still closed. I can hear the clanging sounds of meal preparation in the background and the thump of janitorial carts as they break up the blare of television that seems inescapable in this building. It wasn’t always like this. It was always busy, but never this fancy, and there was music instead of the incessant drone of morning tv. It’s too early for the staff members to be taking breaks, and too early for most of the students to be anywhere on campus but in class, if they’re unfortunate enough to have one scheduled at this hour.  A crew of warmly dressed men takes up two tables, eating what appear to be their lunches out of foil and drinking brightly colored sports drinks. They talk and laugh loudly in Spanish.

I used to work here. For seven years this was my place of employment, this bustling, world class university. I was a drone. I wasn’t doing research, or earning a PhD, or changing the world. I was earning a paycheck, day in and day out. I worked primarily with other staff members, but I also dealt with faculty and students, and I enjoyed those interactions. I especially enjoyed the campus atmosphere. ssvThere’s nothing quite like it. It’s worlds away from a corporate atmosphere, with a lot of creativity and flexibility, but the budget was always an issue. Still, the work environment was usually pleasant and the benefits made the low salary somewhat acceptable.

Now I’m here as a visitor. I’ve had opportunities over the last few years to come back and participate in various projects and programs. Today is one such opportunity. My daily schedule dictated that I drop my son off at school at a certain hour, so I ended up on campus quite a bit before our scheduled meeting time. I figured I would put that found time to good use by coming over to the student union. It takes me back. I have eaten lunch here hundreds of times over the years. I’ve also done a lot of people watching. The people today are much the same as they were a decade ago. Styles change, and the students are far more worldly and tech savvy than they were ten years ago, but they are fundamentally the same.

I found the same phenomenon when I attended my college reunion last month. It had been 25 years since I spent any time at my alma mater, but I felt as though I never left. rush-rheesGranted there were several new buildings, and some of the old asphalt paths had been replaced by lovely brick roads, and there seemed to be new carpeting everywhere, but otherwise it was the same. In those day, instead of an ipod in my ears, I had a walkman in my pocket, but really, everything else seemed the same.  I know that universities are on the cutting edge of change, and that many of those students were pursuing fields of study that hadn’t been imagined when I was an undergraduate, but in many ways universities are like time capsules.

Universities will always draw young people who don’t really know what they’re supposed to do next in their lives. Young people who have been programmed to accept that the automatic next step after high school is college. They will also draw those who have walked across fire to get there. Young people with passion and desire to learn and fuel their futures. And of course, don’t forget the not so young. The people with more age, wisdom, and experience who are hoping to expand their minds and their worlds through higher education.  All of these students keep the universities running, so the business of research can continue and our world can keep evolving.

I’m proud to be affiliated with this university, and with the two universities from which I hold degrees. You don’t have to be a university student to benefit from the contributions of a university environment, but you may find yourself on the cutting edge of something great if you are. I hope I can help my son understand this as he moves through high school. I hope he is one of those engaged students bent on changing the world, and not one who is there to punch his ticket before moving on to the next life achievement checkpoint. I hope he sees what a wonderful opportunity he has in education. I hope he succeeds and is happy in whatever field he chooses. So many hopes. Do you think it’s selfish to have so many? It may be, but I offer no apology, I want him to learn from my shortcomings and make the most of his opportunities. Soon I’ll be looking at the university experience through a different lens, from that of a university parent. One who pays tuition. Gulp. One step at a time, though. For now I think I’ll head over to my meeting, and see if I can help change the world.