I can’t believe it. My second to youngest grandchild is off onto her next big milestone: going to college. Just a couple of weeks ago, Merite’s mom dropped her off. I asked her to tell me a story about orientation and how she was feeling as she embarked on this next milestone phase of her life.
Merite told me about the trip with her parents from her home in Madison to the campus in St. Paul. Her mom helped her set things up in her new dorm room. Merite then went on a four hour bus excursion, including a reassuring overview the two block campus and then onto a tour all around town in St. Paul.
She talked about being nervous in starting this new adventure in a new setting. As she met more people, however, connections began to unfold: The Rabbi that came to the campus? Her mom is the head-librarian at the synagogue in New York City where Merite’s brother Ethan is a Rabbi. The professor who will be Merite’s advisor went to Carlton College. Merite’s dad also went to Carlton College. As they broke into smaller groups during orientation, Merite met a young woman from China who had only been to the US once before, to visit the campus before deciding to go there. Now Merite had a friend with whom she could learn and explore together.
As I try to understand my granddaughter’s world as she enters her first year of college, I am reminded of my days as the head of Camp Chi, an overnight camp near Chicago. The first five hours after campers arrived were the most important for defining their experience. Of course there would be ups and downs, times of feeling lonely—but just like at Camp Chi, helping students feel connected to the campus and to each other from the get-go makes the difference. “Just make one friend the first day,” I advised Merite. “Everything will grow from there.”
Continuing the Tradition of Teaching and Learning
In the spirit of the “teaching and learning” culture of my family, I asked Merite to select two books out of all those she’ll be reading this semester. I wanted to read along with her and follow what she’s studying, just as I did when she was in High School. She warned me that the books are expensive. I told her I could swing it. I decided to pass on the Russian language textbook. She told me about her other classes, including one she thought I would particularly enjoy about governments in Africa.
Finally it was time to end our call. “I’d like to call you each week,” I said. “You have to call me,” she answered. 11 am on Sunday will be our phone date.
“And grandpa, how are you?” she asked. I told her I was waiting to hear from a book publisher, and was enjoying my daily walks in the Chicago Botanic Garden. And that’s how we ended our call. I felt comforted and connected, hearing about the whole new world she was entering and having a plan to maintain our connection so that I could explore it with her.