Tomorrow my wife and I bring my daughter, Kate, to college for the first time. She's matriculating at Bryn Mawr College right outside of Philadelphia. (You can read about the selection process here.)It's one of those moments that both seems to be here all of a sudden and feels as if it's been a long time coming. Yes, it's full of all the feelings you've either experienced or can imagine. This time is also one of those points, like a new job or perhaps a particular birthday, when you take stock of some things if you're reflective at all. Even more than usual, I feel the dual roles of parent and head of school blending in both my thoughts and emotions. So while I write this post during a brief lull from those many last-minutes tasks, I'm doing so from my professional perch while hoping they resonate even more with fellow parents.
I believe you can tell a great deal about what really matters by what you really stew about, often revealed in the questions you're asking when left with only your deeper thoughts. They're the deeper doubts which lurk beneath the tiny anxieties that nip at our ankles each day. Similarly, certain points may dart in and out of your consciousness, but they don't alight long enough to signify any true fear. In my case, I think my fatherly ruminations at this point capture my professional beliefs quite well.
Let's deal with academics first. I don't think I've ever wondered at all what sort of grades Kate is going to make. I've thought about her academics in much more holistic terms, such as how she will respond to the challenges and in what ways she will stretch intellectually. I wonder what courses and/or professors are going to grab her interest and perhaps lead to a major. I wonder what passion will be roused, perhaps one that lasts for a lifetime.
But that's about as far as I go in thinking about her academic work. And I'm aware, perhaps even hopeful, that the final awakening in that last paragraph could occur just as easily outside of class. That's where my questions can really take off. Will she find activities that engage her? That sparkle because of mutual recognition and kindling of her talents, perhaps ones that she doesn't even yet know she has? Will she connect with dozens of fascinating people who both support her but also challenge and provoke her? Will she believe she can continue to be this fiercely independent young person who is who she is? At the same time, will she form those life-long friendships so many do in college? Will she take good care of herself, including continuing her love of long bicycle rides, and others? Will she be okay? No, much better than okay? Will she figure out her place in the world?
I imagine, even have faith, that the answer to all these will be affirmative. The wonder, though, comes with the territory of educator and parent. Not just at times which are real milestones, but each and every day to some degree. It is at the larger moments, however, that we have to ask about the rest: Was I worrying about things that really matter in the long term?