My family made big contributions to the Class of 2010. Both my cousins Raffaele and Alexander recently graduated high school and will be going away to college in the fall. Over the summer, their parents each hosted a party in honor of their son. (To join the fun, visit the “Alexander’s Graduation” and “Raffaele’s Graduation” photo albums.) As I sat at their backyard bashes, I couldn’t help but think about my own experience going away to college way back in 1996. It is like a dream now. But I have proof it really happened. In between Raffaele’s and Alexander’s parties, I received the invitation to my class reunion at the George Washington University. Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I left GW?
What I loved about going away to college was how much it made me appreciate my family back home. They wouldn’t let me forget about them. My father locked himself in the bathroom at the hotel when he dropped me off at school for the first time. My mom could hear him crying. Then, his sisters — all three of them — called me during my first week of classes. They left messages that all pretty much sounded like this: “You eat-a? You sure-a you eat-a? You wanna sauce-a? I can make the sauce-a and then we mail it and you can freeze-a it? You betta eat-a!” After I packed on the freshman 15, they still swore I wasn’t eating without them. Despite those late night pizza and Chinese runs, my aunts insisted I was disappearing. There were care packages from cousins, visits from my parents, who would literally bring that sauce for freezing, and many trips home for the holidays.
Still, independence is the most beautiful part of going away to college. I felt like such a grown up paying for my own groceries, cooking for myself, keeping track of my bills, staying on budget, and doing the laundry. Plus, I got to keep my apartment just the way I liked it, at least during my junior and senior years when I lived alone. My roommates from the previous years weren’t always as neat as I am (but they were lovable just the same).
To be honest, I find myself jealous of Raffaele and Alexander. Freshman year of college is a clean slate. The labels from high school fall off as soon as that high school diploma is in your grasp. The kids at college won’t know anything about you or what happened in high school. When you enter college, you will take new classes in subjects you barely (or never) touched in high school. Every corner you turn, you’ll find a new person who has the potential to be your new best friend, lab partner, frenemy, entertainer, or love. That newness — the idea that everyday is a surprise and could influence your future in such profound ways — never gets old. You will miss it greatly when you hit sophomore year and even moreso when you graduate.
Friends you make in the dorms will feel more like family, and some of them will be just that to you for many many more years. Others will be close to you in college, and you might lose touch down the road. But you’ll never forget each other or the memories you’ll be making because it’s one of the most important transitions in your life. Consider yourself a sculptor, Alexander and Raffaele. Your work of art is your own life. Begin building a strong foundation and mold it well.