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Dear College Senior: You Don't Have to Have Everything Figured OutElizabeth Spencer
I want my son to return to college in the fall. For a multitude of reasons.
Although it’s partly about the education, it’s also so much more than that.
We’ve all now seen that learning can be done remotely. My son is majoring in applied mathematics and computer science and although he may not have gotten as much out of online classes as he would have sitting in a classroom for those last few months of the semester, he was doing work. (When he wasn’t playing Fortnite with his friends that is.) He studied and took tests and wrote papers.
But if he doesn’t go back in the fall, what he will be missing — perhaps even more than contact with his instructors — is the opportunity to foster friendships. You only get eight semesters to bond with the people you meet in college (seven if you take a semester abroad).
That’s not a whole lot of time. College goes by so fast as it is and COVID-19 is stealing time from our students which they can never get back. Time spent hanging out and talking about nothing and everything. Time spent getting to know people from all around the country and world. Time spent figuring out who you are, which is nearly impossible to do when you’re down the hall from mom and dad.
It was bad enough that my son’s freshman year ended so abruptly, with him throwing his belongings into trash bags as my husband helped him disassemble his room. It felt as if one minute I was crying because I was leaving my youngest at school and the next I was sad because he was forced to return home.
Last month my son chose his housing for next year. After spending a few months trying to figure out with whom to live and where, it all finally fell into place. He is supposed to share a room with one of his fraternity brothers in a new campus residence hall. And I want him to be able to live in that room with his friend more than anything. Because the clock is ticking on his college experience.
Of course, I want my son to be safe. And I want the staff at his university and his classmates to be safe as well. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a risk taker (one might even call me neurotic). You only have to look at the current state of my hair to know that I have followed the rules of quarantine to the letter. If opening his campus cannot be accomplished safely then it shouldn’t be done. But I will be acutely aware of what will be lost if he spends another semester at home.
Thirty-five years after I graduated from the same university in Waltham, Massachusetts which my son attends, my college friends remain dear to me. We are all still very much in each other’s lives. In fact, a few weeks ago we had a virtual Sunday brunch and every few weeks we have Zoom get-togethers. One of my friends is a doctor in an emergency room in Queens and she lets us know the latest coronavirus news.
When we're not under quarantine, my college group meets for dinner in the city and in New Jersey every summer for a pool party. We attend each other’s happy and sad events and support one other. These people with whom I lived and learned and played are my family. Through the decades, our kids have gotten to know each other as well. We accept each other’s idiosyncrasies because we’ve known each other for so long.
I want my son to have that. To have a shared history with people whom decades later he can call up and say, “Remember when…”
I think we can agree that, although a virtual life is better than nothing, it cannot replace an actual life. Seeing your professors on a computer screen isn’t the same as talking to them after class or getting to know them during their office hours. My son greatly prefers home cooking to cafeteria food; however, dining with your friends in person is infinitely more fun than texting them while you eat at the kitchen table with your parents.
Colleges are doing their best to figure out what’s right for their students and staff. I heard an NPR interview with the president of Brown University where she discussed the fallout from schools being closed, including the very significant economic impact. I wouldn’t want to be in her or any other administrator’s shoes because making the decisions about when and how to reopen feels pretty Solomonic.
I received an email yesterday from the president of my son’s university which said they are still considering various options and no final decision has been made. Although I trust they will make the right decision, I am hoping that next semester will not be completely lost.
It’s time to celebrate with the perfect gift for your new grad!