If given the chance to go back to high school, I would pass. Not because it was not a good experience for me; for the most part, it was. (Ask Jill.) But as a high school teacher I observe daily the self-consciousness and anxiety and that particular mix of emotions characteristic of teenagers that I am happy to have outgrown and wish never to experience again.
College, on the other hand, I would go back to in an instant. (Ask Deanna.) In fact, I sometimes dream about it. Unfortunately, the dream never works out, because I am my forty-something self in the dream and have difficulty adjusting to life without a car and with a roommate of traditional college age. Still, it is difficult not to long for (every once in a while) an opportunity to go back to that magical time, when anything is possible. Once your parents pull away from your dorm, you’re on your own in the ways that matter. You can reinvent yourself if you wish, or just be a more anonymous version of yourself.
No one knows if you’re the kid from the two-family house with all the used cars in front, or the girl whose father comes to all her games half in the wrapper and argues with the ref. It doesn’t matter as much anymore that you earned three varsity letters in three different sports, or that you made high honors every quarter. It won’t matter that you didn’t get asked to the prom, or that you ran for class officer and lost.
College comes with a clean slate; it provides a safe haven and creates numerous opportunities to meet new people and try new things— without parents and classmates and neighbors watching. And that makes it infinitely easier to sometimes fail. In college you won’t carry around the stigma of losing the election or not making the team for what seems like forever. So eventually you start doing things that matter to you for exactly those reasons. There you are in college: just you and your desire to try new things, to learn about things that matter to you, and to meet new people--many of whom will be different from yourself and the kids you grew up with, all while trying to become someone of your own making.
When we sent my nephew Jonathan off to college last week after a proper Polish breakfast at my parents’, I wanted him to know these things (if he didn’t already) but was too emotional to say much. Instead, while we hugged, through my tears, I managed to say to him only this:
You will have the time of your life. Have fun. Be safe. Do well. Make us proud.
I hope that was enough.