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The send-off to college

By Diane Schwemm

Now that my older sons are upperclassmen, move-in day is a breeze. Evan, a sophomore, will fly by himself from Colorado to Massachusetts and travel lightly, having left most of his stuff in campus storage. Josh stayed on campus this summer to do research for his senior thesis.

But I vividly remember getting ready for that first college move-in day a few summers ago. Our oldest was leaving the nest at the exact same time his younger brothers were starting 8th and 11th grades. The household was chaos.

Only at the last minute did it occur to me that we should do something kind of special on Josh’s final evening at home. We went to a favorite family restaurant — they dressed up (i.e., wore polo shirts), I took 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.”

I hope you enjoy these reflections from two friends and fellow writers. Savor the simple, 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 both Mary and her husband 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. As it turns out, they were there for her throughout her college years, storing her boxes over summers, meeting her at the airport after her semester abroad, inviting her to their home for dinners, and visiting campus for her senior showcase.

When our second child, Russell, 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 had their favorite 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 minute it seemed so right that they were having a little bit of their own father/son bonding time.

Lucy Ewing is in her 18th year as a national board certified teacher with the Boulder Valley School District and has been recognized by the Impact on Education Foundation and Jared Polis Foundation. Writing is a passion for Lucy. In addition to her articles for CollegiateParent, she is a Denver Post “Colorado Voices” columnist and a college essay tutor. Lucy is parent to two recent college graduates, and she and her husband love nothing more than visiting them on both coasts.

Lauren remembers:

Even though Bess wasn’t going far — only 15 miles away — her departure still marked a change in our family: the firstborn leaving home. The morning before we took her to college, she and my husband and I ran on trails through the woods. We took my favorite trail that winds up a pine-sheltered path that’s always damp from springs underground. It was a cool August morning, and as I ran behind my daughter, I thought about how ordinary and stunning this moment was. We were all three sharing an activity we loved; it seemed poignant to me to run together in contrast with the hyped-up shopping and driving I remember from my own college departure.

Now, two years later, my family marks another milestone: the departure of our second, our younger daughter, who is going to college hundreds of miles away. Her choice is more risky, more unknown to the rest of the family. The moment approaches; today we shop for bedding and towels, desk lamps, the material items that ground this transition. When she leaves, my husband and I will live in a house without children. We start to prepare for it by recalling who we were when we were just a couple, the cadence of our lives together twenty years ago, and to try and imagine what we might expect next.

Since sharing these stories, Lauren Rosenberg’s older daughter graduated from college; her younger daughter will be a junior studying abroad in Cuba this semester. Lauren and her husband recently moved from Massachusetts to New Mexico where she is Associate Professor, Writing Program Director and Associate Department Head in English at New Mexico State University. Lauren is the author of The Desire for Literacy: Writing in the Lives of Adult Learners (CCCC/NCTE 2015).


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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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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