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The send-off to college

By Diane Schwemm


I remember when my two older sons were returning to campus as upperclassmen. Unlike the first year of college, move-in day was a breeze. They flew unaccompanied from Colorado to the east coast and travelled lightly, having left most of their stuff in campus storage.

Now they're both graduates, but it will be a similar scene in a few weeks for their younger brother, who's starting his second year at a university in Oregon. David will check a couple of bags and his roommate will pick him up at the airport. Couldn't be easier.

However, I'll never forget the eve of our family's first college move-in day way back when. Our oldest was leaving the nest at the exact same time his younger brothers were starting 8th and 11th grades. The household was chaos.

At the last minute it occurred to me that we should do something special for Josh’s final day at home, so we went to dinner at our favorite family restaurant. The three boys wore polo shirts (our definition of dressed up) and I snapped a picture. Josh was good-natured with his younger brothers, joking around with them on the sidewalk while we waited for a table. It’s a happy memory and I’m thankful for it.

In the frenzy of preparation, don’t forget to take a day, an evening or an hour to spend special time with your first-year college student before the move to campus.

This ritual is just as important if your student will attend school nearby, or even live at home.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or carefully scripted. When I asked friends to share their memories of marking this milestone, I was struck by the simple and personal nature of the stories.

  • “After dinner at a restaurant, we played tag and monkey-in-the-middle in the front yard until it got dark.”
  • “When my two college guys were driven up to school by one parent, the rest of the family collected on the curb as the last item was crammed into the trunk and then ran alongside the car waving like lunatics.”
  • “We go to our favorite ice cream shop and sit around talking about the summer and what the school year might hold.”
  • "When my kids come home for summer, I ask them to make a list of the foods/recipes they'd like to eat. In the final week of summer, we check the list to make sure we’ve created all their favorite meals. We also try to get a family photo so we have something to use for holiday cards in case we're not all together again before early December mailing time."

Here are a few more college parent reflections. Savor the enduring memories you make with your own family. 

Lucy writes:

There were two dinner celebrations for our daughter, one at home and one when we arrived in her college town 2,000 miles away. My childhood friend drove in from a nearby city with her family and took Anna and me to dinner. We went around the table making toasts, and my friend and her husband both took pictures of Anna and ceremoniously entered her contact information into their cell phones, and Anna did the same. It was a sweet way to demonstrate for me that they were going to take care of my dear daughter.

When our second child left for college, he and his dad took off on the 14-hour drive west intending to push through to California in one day. On a whim, they decided to stop for the night in Las Vegas. When I checked on them the next morning, they were still in Vegas, having enjoyed a big huevos rancheros breakfast and then making their leisurely way through a museum on Hollywood gangsters. I had been sad not to accompany them, but at that moment it seemed so right that they were having a little bit of father/son bonding time.

Caroline anticipates:

I don't have anything specific planned with my daughter before she goes back to campus for her sophomore year. I'm simply trying to mindfully appreciate every moment, outing or encounter I have with her for the next two weeks! I try to be open and available for any conversation she wants to have, from considering the location of her bed in the dorm, the choice of a new rug or examining possible adjustments to her diet. She has a mix of emotions about returning to school — she's eager to see her friends and looks forward to her classes but at the same time says, "Aw, I don't want to leave home!" I do hope to still plan a memorable dinner, concert or afternoon at the pool before she has to leave me again!

Lauren remembers:

Even though Bess wasn’t going far — only 15 miles away — her departure marked a change in our family: the firstborn leaving home. The morning before we took her to college, she, my husband and I ran on our favorite trail through the woods. It was a cool August morning, and as I ran on the pine-sheltered path behind my daughter, I thought about how ordinary and stunning this moment was.

Two years later, my family marked another milestone: the departure of our second, younger daughter, who went to college hundreds of miles away. Her choice was more risky, more unknown to the rest of the family. As the moment approached, we shopped for bedding and towels, desk lamps, the material items that grounded the transition — and my husband and I prepared for life in a house without children by recalling who we were when we were just a couple, the cadence of our lives together twenty years earlier.

Diane Schwemm is a writer and senior editor at CollegiateParent. She and her husband are parents of a college student and two recent graduates. In her off hours, she likes to read, hike and garden and, thanks to the influence of her family, appreciates ballet and basketball equally.

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Rebecca

Great article and reminder! We are so busy worrying about the packing list and getting younger sibs ready for high school that we haven't planned a special activity. Thank you for sharing this timely insight Diane.

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