Friday, October 7, 2011

A Typical College Send-Off

My husband and I recently helped our oldest child move into college. As expected, it was a very emotional endeavor. My short temper on the drive up to Chicago caused my usually easy-going, amicable disposition to be easily aggravated by minor offenses. However, once we arrived in the Windy City, the realization of the opportunities that await her over the next four years finally set in and an infectious spirit of excitement and anticipation permeated the car.

At 10 a.m. Sunday morning, as rain drizzled down on the City, we pulled our packed SUV onto campus and found a parking space relatively close to her dorm. The next three hours were filled with waiting in various registration lines, hauling boxes from one building to another, and shooing younger siblings out of the way as we attempted to unpack all of Sarah’s most prized possessions into her allotted shared space in a 16X16 room. It was a lot of work.

Finally, after the last box was (mostly) emptied and the bed made, we traipsed over to the dining hall and met up with the other roommates and their families for lunch. Stories were shared (I haven’t talked so much about The Tornado since June), majors discussed, and interests highlighted as the kids waited with great anticipation for their families to get the heck out of there and let the partying begin.

We took our leave of Sarah and her new friends in late afternoon and, after a quick jaunt to Target to purchase some storage items (and a year’s supply of toilet paper) for Sarah and her roommates, we made our way back downtown in search of some of the best Italian food we have ever eaten. It is, after all, Chicago.

In its great wisdom - and penchant for tradition –the University has created a few ceremonies that celebrate a student’s leaving home and entering college. The first of these is the Opening Convocation. All 1200+ First Years and their families fill Rockefeller Chapel to listen to a few dignitaries speak (president, vice-president, dean of students, etc) not only about the history of the University of Chicago but also the value of education itself. Needless to say, these speeches were a bit dry. Actually, most people in attendance took this opportunity to indulge in a much-needed nap. (Here’s to hoping the professors are a bit more stimulating….)

By far, though, the best and most emotional tradition is the bagpipe procession from Rockefeller through campus to Hull Gate, where students and their families ceremoniously part ways. Nicknamed the “Trail of Tears”, upperclassmen walk through the crowd offering tissues for teary-eyed parents and siblings while the campus bell towers ring vociferously to welcome the new students. The gated entrance to Hull Courtyard looms ahead as families slowly trudge toward the inevitable. Finally, the Sticklens arrive at the gate and prepare to say goodbye to the first in what will, hopefully, be a long line of baby birds that will leave the nest. I have prepared myself to tell Sarah goodbye, “We’ll see you in a month, call or text whenever you want. Oh, my goodness, you’re going to meet so many great people and have so much fun, yada yada yada…” but nothing prepares me for what I look over and see: Katie is bawling her eyes out.

“Are you crying?” I ask her.

“Yes,” she replies.

“But I didn’t even think you liked Sarah!”

And so, with a mixture of tears and laughter, we hug each other, say goodbye, and proceed to our car to make the long drive back home to Joplin.

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