Today, as I watched my high school senior walk into school wearing the hoodie of my alma mater’s athletic bitter rival, all I could think about was Sandra Bullock’s “Blind Side” portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, telling her football-star son, Michael Oher, that if he went to Tennessee instead of her beloved Ole Miss, she would be there for every game but she would not be wearing that “gaudy orange….It is not in my color wheel and I’m not gonna wear it.”
At my kids’ high school, they have uniforms including a zip pullover for cold days. As a privilege, seniors are allowed to wear college sweatshirts instead of the pullover starting the second half of the year. I see it as a chance for them to try out a college identity for a day. For them, it may simply be a chance to wear something more comfortable.
So, perhaps I shouldn’t read too much into my son wearing that particular hoodie on the first day he has a choice. Maybe it is super comfy or the only college sweatshirt that’s clean or maybe…it is the school he will ultimately choose. At this point in his senior year my son, along with many others, is both receiving and waiting for application decisions. He hasn’t ruled any university out and is still waiting to hear from several of his top picks, including the one represented by today’s sartorial choice.
This is not my first college rodeo and like all things involving parenting, I think I am better at it this time around. My oldest child graduated high school and started his freshman year of college between the deaths of both of my parents. It was a heart-wrenching time full of emotion that inevitably spilled into the college decision process.
I never really expected any of my children to attend my out-of-state alma mater but, once my son had narrowed his choices to top public engineering programs in the mid-Atlantic area, my alma mater was suddenly in the mix. I tried to stay objective, honestly I did. I set up visits, nodded appreciatively during presentations, chanted what were for me opposing team fight cheers, and refrained from all manner of potentially embarrassing behavior on college tours. I don’t think I fooled anyone, though, and my joy when my son chose my alma mater was genuine and heartfelt.
It is a rewarding experience when your offspring chooses to follow your path in some way; be it college choice, military service, Greek life affiliation, or profession. It is both an affirmation of your own choices and the possibility of a source of bonding just as your paths are beginning to diverge in earnest. It gave me comfort to return my son to campus after my father’s funeral and to know that he would be walking some of the same paths and sitting in the same buildings that both my father and I had in our respective days. But it was more of a comfort to know that I was returning my son to a place he felt a sense of belonging to, a sense he would have had whether or not he was a legacy.
Even though it is the same university, the physical space and the time he lives in are obviously much different. There is some commonality but his path is unique and he has made it his own. When it came time for my daughter to think about college, she knew she wanted a more urban setting and is happily succeeding at her chosen university.
That, I believe, is what we as parents want for all of our kids. We want them to find a place, a space, to confidently call their own. As parents footing or helping to foot substantial tuition bills, we have the right to narrow down colleges based on affordability, distance, academic ratings, safety, and quality of life. But once those parameters are agreed upon by parents and child, then it is up to the student to decide where he or she feels the most at home.
Sometimes after all the research and rankings, it is intangibles that help make a decision in a close comparison. Things like the genuine friendliness of the tour guide and other students met during an accepted student visit, or the school spirit felt or not felt on campus, the great or lousy weather experienced during a tour. Whatever it is for your student, he or she has to feel as though this particular university could be home. They need to look around and feel that they have the potential to belong and thrive here. Moms everywhere feel a tiny stab in the heart when their college students refer to their universities as “home” but for the next four years it will realistically be their home with all that entails.
Just like a favorite hoodie, it has to fit your student. Or, they have to feel that at least they have the potential to grow into it. They are the ones going away to college and living that life every day. We get to drop in on their lives during Parents and Families Weekends and at athletic and artistic events. We as well as our kids get to join a new community, meet other parents, and maybe even make new friends of our own.
We may share in the rah-rah school spirit but we need to remember that we are no longer the ones grinding; the ones trudging up hills in bad weather to get to an early morning class or stressing over midterm grades. Our students may not make the same decision we think we would make in their shoes or the one that most appeals to us for whatever reason.
We may rejoice in their choice, or be surprised by it, but we must support it even if it is not in our literal or figurative “color wheel.” I may or may not wear a hoodie supporting my son’s college choice or I may go the creative “house divided” split hoodie route, but I will 100 percent support his choice because it is his to make. I am sure whatever he decides will look and feel right on him and that is what matters.
Photo credit: Penn State
Peggy Montella is the mother of two college students and a high school senior. She has a B.A. in Journalism and an M.B.A. in Marketing from the Pennsylvania State University, where she volunteers as a Parent Ambassador. She and her husband of 25 years live in Maryland. Her golden retriever and boxer puppy keep her company in her rapidly emptying nest. Her blog is andPeggy.blog