Last year, some of us left our babies at college, cried and wondered what their first year would be like. In our case, we left our daughter. Reese, in a college town that felt more like a ghost town than a bustling campus full of coeds. Everything was cancelled. There were no football games, welcome concerts or social gatherings to meet other new students and rather than making friends they felt isolated. Masks were mandated everywhere and classes were mostly online. Their meals had to be pre-ordered with with a specific pick up time and they had to eat in their dorm room. Most days she referred to her room as a prison cell.
To make things even more difficult the weather registered in the high 90s for the first six weeks of classes and there was a raging fire just miles from their campus that left a layer of ash on everything daily. The air quality was at dangerous levels for months and didn’t even allow for open windows in their non air conditioned room. College wasn’t even close to what it was supposed to be, but we kept hoping that things would change. We prayed she wouldn’t get sick, quarantined or just quit. We encouraged her daily and reminded her that she was still learning to live on her own and getting her first year of classes done. Both of these were huge accomplishments in an environment that was anything, but conducive to thriving.
Our daughter was covid-tested often to have the “privilege” of being on campus. She came home for a lot of weekends just so she could have a little freedom. The exact opposite of how a college freshman normally would feel about returning home.
By Thanksgiving she was mentally done and like most colleges she had an extended holiday break. In fact, she came home mid-November and didn’t return to campus until mid-January. Going back wasn’t easy and we encouraged her to just try and finish it out. She only had 12 weeks left in the dorm and then she would be back home to finish her classes online. I’m not going to lie, we were all questioning whether all of this was worth it.
One particularly bad week she came home for a long weekend visit and told us she wanted to discuss quitting school. We knew she had reached the tipping point and we had to handle this appropriately. We also knew that she had endured a lot and who could blame her for not wanting to return. We told her to get her thoughts and options in order and we would sit down and discuss it all. On the day we were supposed to sit down and chat about what she was thinking she had an epiphany. Apparently, while researching her non-college options, she realized they really didn’t allow her to reach her end goals. Thank you Google!I can still remember walking with her that morning when the shift happened. It was literally like someone had flipped a switch. She stopped focusing on how much she hated her circumstances and started focusing on the bigger picture. She started really thinking about what she wanted to do with her life and how college was going to help her get there. No amount of parenting or talking could have convinced her that staying in school was the right answer; she had to come to this conclusion on her own. In that moment, this ridiculous freshman year became worth it.
That same day she began looking for apartments for the fall, scheduled meetings with mentors in the area she was interested and started looking for a job to occupy more of her time. She had a renewed lease on life and she was excited for the first time since the pandemic had hit. Truly, she was looking forward to her future rather than just dreading each new day.
This has been Reese’s first week back at college. We moved her into her apartment last Friday and while she was a little teary when we left, I don’t think she has missed us one bit. She has been to the stadium for pep rallies, done the traditional “freshman” hike, met tons of people, been dancing, gone out for ice cream, dinner and coffee, taken the bus, had friends over, worked out, lost her internet, lost electric (not on the same night) and been pulled over by the police (turns out you need your lights on while driving at night), gone to in person classes, met with her advisor and declared a minor. This is what college is supposed to look like. You are supposed to work hard and play hard and not miss your parents. You’re supposed to be stressed out, but also have the time of your life.
To all the year 2 college students who have no idea where their classes are, where the bus picks you up and drops you off, who don’t have any friends from last year and also feel a little anxious about all the people on campus: Get out there and live it up. I know you’re scared and a little hesitant because it feels like you should know what you are doing, but of course you have no idea. You have never even eaten in the dining hall or student union. Get out there and join the club, go to all the things, meet people, talk to your classmates, be on the oval or square or whatever it’s called at your school and soak in the amazing energy that is a college campus. Be the freshman you never got to be, only a little older and a little wiser.
You’ve got this!
Sunshine & Sarcasm,
Lowi & G