So, my son is now a senior in high school, applying to colleges, getting calls from colleges, pondering where he wants to go and what he wants to do…IF he graduates and gets in. And IF he’s mature enough to handle college life. Which are all still questions yet to be fully explored. His quest has me thinking about my own college experiences.
One of the greatest triumphs of my young life was getting into Brown University. Beyond that, I got into all of the other schools I applied to: Washington University, RISD, MICA, and Skidmore. Huge ego boost, massive, absurd. I was on top of the world and couldn’t wait to leave home. Brown was an especially sweet acceptance because my Lovett college counselor had laughed at me when I told him I wanted to apply there. He said I’d never get in. My parents disagreed and sought a professional college counselor. She said it was a reach, but likely possible, if I kept my grades up and improved my SAT score. My favorite English teacher of all time, Darlene Settles, had recommended Brown to me, since I wanted to study literature and art. Fast forward to May 1994, Mom called me in the car to tell me I was in!
Major realizations: I was WAY TOO YOUNG to appreciate going to such an outstanding university. I had no particular career path in mind (except maybe, starving artist). Brown has no core curriculum, so I took whatever I wanted (and could get into), with no discernible rhyme or reason, except “Yay! Russian Fantasy and SciFi. Why not?!?” I was WAY TOO SPOILED AND OBLIVIOUS, to appreciate the sacrifices my parents were making for me to attend and that others around me had to make. Other kids were there as part of the PLME pre-med program, a super rigorous 7 year course of study, and they worked non-stop to maintain a 93 or higher average (INSANE!!!) I didn’t have to work, just study, and I didn’t have to worry about scholarships or program grade requirements. Plus, I had no clue about what my parents were doing to pay for my tuition. Folly, thy name is Jo. They didn’t want me to take scholarship funds (which I could have gotten) away from other less-privileged students. My folks used their home to help finance my tuition. Wow. Dumbstruck. I was WAY TOO CAVALIER about everything college-related. While I am proud to say that I didn’t flunk out of college in the first semester or two, I definitely didn’t give it the critical weight it deserved. I was surrounded by tremendous, brilliant, influential minds, and given insane opportunities to meet and work with legendary writers, artists, scientists, scholars, engineers, etc. I squandered so many opportunities that I am often aghast at my self absorption. I only partied on the weekends, but still failed to absorb the gravity of this gift of, not just a college education, but of an IVY LEAGUE college education. I did not work hard to cultivate friendships, connections and lasting relationships, which is apparently one of the best benefits (beyond the big name) of attending an Ivy League school. I stayed in my peculiar little bubble that has always been Jo’s Walking Day Dream World and largely ignored a truly marvelous reality. Alas, that is so true to my form.
I look back and see how spoiled, entitled and foolish I really was…and I cringe a lot. I wish I could slap teenage ME around a bit and say “Wake Up! You’re missing EVERYTHING! You’re so fortunate and you don’t even appreciate it!”. Since I can’t do that, maybe I can tell Patrick. We aren’t on fabulous terms right now as I have to ride him all the time about his assignments and ground him for foolish things. Perhaps though, he will see that we aren’t so different. He has grown up with quite a few privileges and very few needs unfulfilled. Maybe I can tell him that college is not just a four year party; that working hard is the MAIN EVENT; and that honing the skills that will earn your living is part of it. My youthful myopia prevented me from understanding any of this.
College is about growing up, teenage steps toward adulthood, preparing to be self-sufficient; not just getting away from your parents (I got very, very homesick) and doing whatever you want (drinking loses its shiny-new-car veneer very quickly). It all seems so grand to become an adult until you discover the adult world is about RESPONSIBILITY, not just doing what you want all the time (which is apparently what I thought it was). Yet for so many privileged teens, college is a free-for-all. The kids who did work/study programs or had academic scholarships understood far better than I did about their purpose. I just didn’t get the message in time to appreciate all that was bestowed. My dad likes to say that when you are a teenager, you think you know everything and think your parents know nothing. When you become an adult, you suddenly realize that you know NOTHING, and you wonder how your parents got so much wisdom so quickly.
So, yep, that’s where I’m at.