My cousin, Brittany, leaves for college today. She's attending a branch campus of a large state school about an hour from our hometown. My aunt left a facebook post last night about having the car all packed and ready to go to take her to school and it got me thinking about my trip to Duquesne and how that moment impacted my life.
Looking back, I was so, so young. I was only 17 1/2 when I left for Duquesne University. I thought I was ancient though. What's even scarier than how young I was is how young my parents were. They were just a few months older than I am right now. *insert shudder sequence here* That's right folks. Two babies dropped off their first born baby at college. I don't remember much about the whole process of getting ready to go to school. I mean, I remember picking out a new bedspread, contacting my roommate to see what appliances and other important items we would be bringing. Good grief - when I started my Freshman year, personal computers were just starting to become popular and laptops were basically unheard of. Our dorm rooms didn't have internet (and the computer lab only had dial up connections). We thought word processors were the height of affordable technology! But I don't remember very much about the actual drop off procedure. I'm sure it was a combination of my dad getting ticked at the traffic in Pittsburgh, at having to wait on the bottom floor of my co-ed dorm (don't worry - a good catholic school separates their freshman dorm by floors. Girls get the bottom six, boys the top six) to get an elevator to get my stuff to the dorm room, at all the seminars and paper work we had to fill out the first day. My mom probably fussed too much and I probably got irritated with her , you know, being the big grown up that I was at 17 1/2, and said inappropriately mean things to her. I do very much remember standing at the steps outside of St. Martin's - the ones that went between the tennis courts and led to parking and the walkway out of the campus and saying goodbye to my parents. My mom hugged me and kissed me and told me she loved me with tears in her eyes, which cut my defenses. Then my dad, in a rare display of affection, hugged me and said, "Love you, girl," which brought home the realization that I was being left alone in a big city on a campus where I knew absolutely no one, had no connections, no one to care for me, protect me or help me make my decisions.
I watched them walk off towards their car wanting so much to run after them and tell them that I was still a little girl and they should not leave me here after all. I felt homesick before they even reached their car! But there was a larger part of me that knew it was time for me to march back into St. Martin's and get ready for the Freshman Mixer and tackle head on the future that was waiting for me. I cried a little bit but put on a brave face and participated in all the Freshman Orientation activities that night and the rest of the week. I strolled campus, found my classrooms (not so hard to do on a campus that encompasses only 5 city blocks) and felt good about being a "college girl."
Looking back, it's funny how so much time was spent in classrooms, learning and preparing for my career, yet here I sit (up way too late at night) thinking about how it was every thing but the stuff I learned in the classroom that has prepared me for where I am today to be who I am today. And I think about Brittany, and how she has so much fun and excitement waiting ahead for her and how at this moment, she is probably so scared and confused. Because going to college isn't just about going to a new school. Going to college is about starting a new life. Childhood is gone and while I don't think anyone consciously thinks of it that way - let's face it, by the time your 18 year old self heads off to college, you've already thought of yourself as an "adult" for a few months now - it is what happens. When your parents drop you off and turn and walk away from you, that little child inside of you panics for just a little bit - no matter how ready you are to be an adult and start your life.
17 years ago, I left my childhood behind and walked through the glass doors of St. Martin into my adult hood. I may have a few regrets here and there, but I trust that every single second has led me to where I am today. Through all of those ups and downs I have found the passions and purpose that God laid out for me at my creation.
Brittany - I don't know if you will read this or not, but if you do, enjoy every single second of what you are doing - even if you are crying into your pillow because you are homesick! Every moment is a lesson, is a chance at something new, is a gift. It may take a long time to understand what exactly the gift of this precise moment is, but before you know it, 17 years will have flown by. The fashions you thought you had left behind in your teens will be back in style (and you'll wonder why they are bringing leggings back again!?) and if you are as smart as I know you are, you remember this first day of college thankful for everything this opportunity brings you good or bad, because it was the beginning of all of the moments that will lead you to the happiest times in your life.
It may seem silly, but this verse from the song "Letter to Me" by Brad Paisley always gives me chills:
You've got so much up ahead
You'll make new friends
You should see your kids and wife
And I'd end by saying have no fear
These are nowhere near the best years of your life
I remember leaving high school thinking that my best days were behind me, but they weren't. Each day I wake up knowing that today is the best day of my life.
And it was all because I walked back up those concrete steps between the tennis courts and through those heavy glass doors of St. Martin's dormitory by myself to start my new adult life. If you had told me 17 years ago where I'd be now, the life I'd be living, I would have laughed until my sides ached (or I may have cried in horror) but here I sit 17 years later, thankful that young, innocent girl had the guts to move away from home and pursue her dreams. Because in her wildest dreams, she would have never imagined being so happy and so loved - that all of her dreams really would come true.