On the evanescence of college life

 

Let the rejoicing begin. The end of the year is nearly here! For some, that means the end of four years of papers and exams; for others it may mean finishing your first year away from home. Either way, it’s time to celebrate.

But it’s also time to reflect and maybe even be a little melancholy. Maybe you’re going to miss some friends (and professors) next year. Maybe your first year made you realize just how much your family means to you.

I’m always sad at the end of the year as I say goodbye to the seniors who’ve grown from adolescents into young adults.

It’s hard to let go, to say good-bye, especially for the person staying put. I know in the fall when I come back and look for familiar faces, they won’t be here; they’ll be off starting new adventures, while I’m back to the same-old, same-old.

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This year, in particular, has been a big year of letting go for me.  Not only am I proud of all my students, but I successfully navigated my daughter’s freshman year of college without completely melting down. It wasn’t pretty all the time, and I had help along the way — some of which came from you.

Student pieces in my creative nonfiction classes showed me what students are thinking, feeling, and what parents do that bugs them and makes them happy.

While I’ve always felt I had an inside track on what goes on inside the head of a college student, this year that inside information became personal.

Sometimes it was hard not to personalize what I was reading — is my daughter doing that?  But I am also grateful to know what behavior is “normal,” so I don’t freak out on her when I learn about some of her antics.

Individual conversations with some of you reassured me that you still want your parents in your lives, but you also like your space.

Adjusting to new ways, new patterns, and new daily routines takes time for students, parents, and siblings whether you’re at home or at school.  Getting it right doesn’t come without some mistakes.

Moving on, whether you’re leaving home or school, is a big adventure.  Being left behind is also a big change, even thought it doesn’t look like it.

I don’t move around a lot.  It’s easy for past students to find me.  I’m here when they need recommendations and advice.

I’ve found through the years that students do stay in touch.  One of my first students watched me giddily return to class the week after I got engaged,  and has sent me a Christmas card every year since her graduation. Another emails when he’s in need of career advice, and others battle me in games of online Scrabble. I’ve had dinner with one in San Francisco and lunch with three in New York.

Now with Facebook, some students may wish I didn’t have the ability to follow them, but it’s fun to see how their careers are developing, to see how much what they learned at Emerson plays out in their lives (I won’t friend a student, but I won’t ignore a request.)

Staying put while others move on is tricky.  But my role is to be the constant, to not rock  the boat.

Though sometimes it feels boring and staid when I watch everyone else fly off to exciting destinations, I like finding adventure in the daily routine. It takes ingenuity and creativity, but it can be done. I change my courses — whether it’s the assignments or the readings — to keep me fresh. I take workshops outside of Emerson and take new recreational classes such as pottery and dog training, and I take on adventures like dog breeding.

Each fall, when I look for those familiar faces and don’t see them, there’s a moment of sadness, but then I see new faces I know will become familiar ones.

When I walk into a classroom each semester, I don’t know what challenges lie ahead, which students are going to excite me or which ones will incite me, or what the class dynamics are going to be like.

Sometimes, I’m caught off guard when I walk by my daughter’s closed bedroom door.  I expect to hear her music, but only silence greets me.  But then I’m surprised by phone calls and visits with her. Watching her enthusiasm as she toured us through her college’s art museum one recent weekend was contagious.  I never know when I’m going to learn something new or what it’ll be.

That’s what teaching and parenting are all about — learning something new every day. And that’s exciting.