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Celebrating milestones during a pandemic has meant stepping back from what we typically think of as a “celebration” and reflecting on what exactly we’re celebrating in the first place. Bringing back the basics has made us all more aware of the truly meaningful aspects of our lives.
In that spirit, even though it may be disappointing not to host a big college send-off party, I encourage families to focus on the important things! There are still extremely special and safe ways to memorialize this pivotal time in your student’s life, and the best part of these simple celebrations is that they truly celebrate your student and what makes them unique.
Think back on all the little things that embody your relationship with your student. A favorite meal or memory, a shared hobby or pastime — or maybe it’s something your student enjoys that you haven’t tried before! Before they leave for college, take the time to really think about what makes them special to you, the simple things they enjoy more than anything, and see how you can weave them into a special day together.
Throughout the trying times these past few months, everyone has had to get creative in terms of their celebrations. As my friends all start to move onto their next chapters, these quiet celebratory sendoffs have become increasingly commonplace.
My roommate and I recently said goodbye to a college friend moving to St. Louis for medical school. Her parents took extra care to fill her last weeks at home with as much quality time as possible. She split up her goodbyes with everyone over the span of two weeks to adhere to social distancing, only seeing one or two people at a time. When it was our turn, she invited us over for dinner. Although we did little besides catch up and enjoy each other’s company, it was nonetheless very special.
We saw her the day before she made the 12-hour drive from Boulder, Colorado to St. Louis, and we took care to leave early to make sure she had enough time to spend with her parents (and finish packing!). She and her dad spent their last night together catching up on their favorite podcast and TV show, a regular nightly occurrence for them but doubly special that night because she was leaving. They were both happy — neither of them wanted anything more than to be sure they made time for each other.
As we gear up to say our goodbyes, we will all have to forgo our original plans of big splashy parties or big group farewells. Even still, I find that the individual attention you can give to people when you’re in smaller groups will make those last moments more significant.
Here are some ways to make a quiet celebration extra special!
Throw all your favorite family photos, the silly and the serious, into a powerpoint slideshow to watch after dinner together! Make sure to pick out ones from your favorite memories and milestones throughout the years. Everyone is sure to enjoy the trip down memory lane and it's the perfect dose of nostalgia to mark this important point in your student's life.
If your family usually goes to a favorite restaurant to celebrate important events, it can be super disappointing to feel as if you're missing out on a beloved tradition. If you can't go to that special place, why not recreate a few of their signature dishes at home? Everyone can get involved trying to piece together their favorite meals and you might even wind up with something you like even better!
Picnics are the perfect socially distanced way to gather. To make it a party, think beyond your backyard or driveway. Pack up all your favorite foods, chairs and blankets, and head somewhere beautiful. You can invite a few other families if you want; see if someone has room in their vehicle for a bunch of balloons. Plan the meal to enjoy sunset or some stargazing if you prefer. Make sure to snap a family photo for the holiday card (or the next slide show).
Your student is sure to appreciate a surprise letter or sentimental gift hidden in their suitcase when they unpack in their freshman dorm room. It's such a sweet way to show them you're always with them every step of the way, and it will help them feel as if they have a piece of home in their new environment.
Looking back on when I headed off to college, the memories I cherish to this day are not the graduation or congratulatory parties, but rather the quiet nights with my family and friends where we talked and spent time together. My mom made all my favorite foods for a whole month (I really love my food). I spent quality time with my grandparents, assuring them I was ready, and packing all the little knick knacks my grandmother wanted me to bring. My whole family spent months getting me ready for college, whether it was my grandparents telling me what I shouldn’t forget or my mother asking me what food or supplies I wanted to bring along. My brother and I were able to spend extra time together as well, eating our favorite foods of course, and he patiently listening to my pleas that he call me while I was away. I knew even then that all I wanted from my family was that quality time together. Knowing that I was moving thousands of miles away from them made any time we could spend together extra precious to me.
The pandemic has definitely made me extra appreciative of being able to see my friends and loved ones, and it’s made me so much more grateful to spend time together doing little else besides sitting and talking.
Truth be told, sometimes the best way to say goodbye is to bask in the everyday joys that make being together so special.