May 1st. It’s a date that brings a lot of relief and closure in some ways, knowing that seniors will put in their deposits at the schools they will attend. But the days that lead up to May 1st can actually be pretty stressful. April is the month where students will make last-minute trips to colleges they’ve been accepted to, spend endless time on Niche and other websites to find out more about these schools, and engage in many, many conversations with not only me but the other adults in their life listening for that one thing they need to hear in order to make a decision. Though stressful, it’s a necessary process.
It brings me back to 4 years ago. My oldest daughter was trying to make that same agonizing decision of where she should spend the next four years of her life. I kept telling her and myself that on one hand, it was just four years, a relatively short period of time when you really think about it. But the decision seemed monumental. I suppose it was and still is. The four years as an undergraduate, in my opinion, are crucial to development into an adult. It’s here in these four years that relationships happen, sometimes for life. For others, faith develops and they discover that there is a God who loves them. Still for others, it’s a time to try out new things or continue to hone skills, talents and passions. Finally, for many, they will figure out what they want to pursue, whether it’s more education or a potential career. Yes, it’s an important decision.
As I was saying, May 1st takes me back to that night in our small and cluttered kitchen where we sat around the table trying to figure out where she would be going to college. She was rejected by so many of the colleges on her list, even one of her safety schools. As a straight A student and a National Merit Scholarship recipient, the decisions came as a surprise for her. But finally she got into a school she really wanted to attend.
The decision came down to her “dream school” and her last safety school. You can guess how this ends. Yup, you guessed it. She, or rather, we decided that the very last safety school on her list made the most financial sense for us as a family. And while she knew it made sense, she never actually thought it was where she would be going to college.
In late August, we packed her up and went to orientation. At the end of the weekend, I hoped that orientation was not a harbinger of things to come. She was quiet. It seemed that most of the other students made a ton of friends, laughed endlessly and seemed to be having a really good time. She felt awkward being there. If it was hard driving the 7 hours to get her there, it was so much harder driving the 7 hours back, wondering how this would all turn out for her.
The word “transfer” came up often during those first few months of school. We encouraged her to press on, that it would get better. I needed to say that as much for me as for her. She pressed on. She talked again about transferring over Christmas break. Still, she went back for her second semester. By March or so, the “T” word didn’t come up anymore. And while she would tell you she wasn’t exactly ecstatic about it, she went back for her sophomore year.
Sophomore year was a completely different experience. Somehow, her perspective on her school and the students changed. Instead of lamenting about the lack of intellectual curiosity on campus, she decided to create it. She organized her school’s first TEDx. She found undergraduate research opportunities. She led worship for her campus fellowship. She connected with a few kindred spirits. She was making it work.
In less than two weeks, we will make our final trip upstate to move my oldest daughter out as she graduates. This is a very different trip than the one we made 4 years ago to that awful weekend of orientation. This trip is anticipatory, exciting. We will be going up to hear her deliver the student commencement address. And while we’re so proud of her, we’re more amazed by how much she has changed and grown over these last four years. Being a big fish in a small pond gave her the confidence and the drive she had lacked in high school. God has been good.
It’s what can happen when you let go and let God. I know. It’s such a trite phrase, way overdone. But lots of cliche phrases have a a bit of truth in them. When you give things a chance, the results may surprise you. Sometimes even when you go into things with less than a positive attitude, things can still pleasantly surprise you.
So as I write this on the eve of May 1st, I have a few final things I wanted to share with both our seniors and their parents:
SENIORS: I’m excited for you. For all of you. For some of you, it’s turned out exactly as you dreamed it would. Be thankful that it has. I hope that it will be what you have dreamed it would be. For others of you, it has been disappointing. Be thankful for that too. As I’ve looked back on life, it has so often been the difficult and disappointing things that have shaped who I am. The circumstances that have shaped me are probably things I wouldn’t have wished for, but am so grateful I was able to go through. And if you can have some perspective, even the second, third or last choice of college can turn out to be a pivotal and transformative time in your life. I know because I saw it happen.
In the next four years, love well. That’s the most important piece of advice I can give you. Love God, love others, and love yourself. Love what you are learning. And know how privileged you are. Only 3% of the world’s population attends college. That puts you already in a pretty elite group. So, go to class, study and take it all in. Make your parents proud. And along the way, join some clubs that interest so that you can find other people who love what you love. And if you’re really courageous, try some things you’ve never done before, things that terrify you. Like improv. Or dancing. Okay, I’m just sharing things here that terrify me, but you get what I mean.
Thank you for sharing yourselves with me these last few years. You all have what it takes to not only handle college, but life. I know that your time here at SBS has prepared you well for this next step, academically, emotionally and spiritually. You have also gained the life skills you need. I’m sad to say goodbye to you as a class, but I hope you’ll come back during break and visit so that I can hear about all the amazing things you are learning and doing.
PARENTS: I’m praying for all of you, especially for those of you who are sending your child to college for the very first time. Take lots of tissues. I bawled my eyes out leaving my first child. I hugged and waved goodbye to my second. And while I absolutely adore my youngest, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking forward to being an empty nester! But if this is your oldest or only child, definitely take the tissues.
These next four years will go by quickly. The first semester is the hardest. Your children may call/text you and tell you that they are lonely. They may tell you that they’ve made a mistake in choosing their college. Listen, but don’t necessarily agree. Give it time. Remember the first month or two that they were adjusting to SBS. Try to remember your own freshman year. Eventually almost all of them will find their niche, become more independent, make friends, and even declare their major. You will need to let them struggle. Sometimes, you will need to even let them fail. It will get better and usually a lot better.
SBS prides itself on the 7 C’s. I’d like to add to that the 3 C’s of life:
The 3 C’s of Life:
Choices, Chances, Changes.
You must make a choice
to take a chance
or your life will never change.
Class of 2017, Congratulations! You’ve been a terrific class and I wish you all the best.