Dear Mom and Dad,
Four years ago, we parted ways for a bit of an experiment. After eighteen years of living together, you hugged me, and exclaimed, “Good luck!” I hugged you back, and excitedly replied, “Thanks!” You began your journey home and I began my journey into “adulthood.”
We both pretended we were fine. You had done this before after all, and after eighteen years, I’m sure you were ready to get rid of me. And, I was ready for this next exciting chapter. Everyone had told me I was about to experience the best four years of my life and who was I to second guess the wisdom of the masses?
But, as we embraced I’m sure you noticed that my eyes were glassy, and my voice was raw. My eyes grew increasingly wet and my throat went completely dry. I noticed a slight quiver in your tone and anxiety in your demeanor.
That day we gave each other fake smiles. The kind of smile that from ten feet away looks as real as any other, but from one foot away is almost painful to watch. It was the kind of smile that comes from flexing every muscle in your face to curl your lips and push away the tears.
It was a smile that says, “I want you to think I’m fine, but I am absolutely not.”
But today, as I stand among my peers and look back into the (chaotic) parents’ section of the graduation ceremony, I am happy to report that the smile I’m giving you is very real. It’s easy, and has frankly been my default facial expression in my time here at college. I know you can tell, because, after all, these things are much more obvious than they may initially seem.
The point of this letter, though, is not to tell you that I was happy in college. This, you know. That despite some ups and downs my college years were overwhelmingly positive. That, when life and my own stupidity got in the way, I made it through and found a home.
The point of this letter is to thank you for allowing that to happen. With parents like you, my happiness is and was a foregone conclusion. For the first eighteen years of my life, you prepped me to dive headfirst into the world. Your wisdom, both implicitly and explicitly given, has carried me through.
But, that real smile took some time in coming. Little moments curled my lips ever so slightly.
The night I came back from school, broke down in the back of your car and swore I couldn’t return the next semester, could have really done me in. But you would never allow that. You gave me a pep talk, got me the help I needed, and reminded me not to take life too seriously.
Individual moments are foggy, unclear, and often terrifying, but you advised me that the ability to zoom out and gain some much-needed perspective would do me a world of good. And, boy, it has. Most importantly though, you were there when I needed you the most.
The many moments when I got nervous about switching clubs, friends, academic interests, etc. you told me that I was too young to not do something because I hadn’t done it yet. Wise words I still repeat to my friends.
When my anxiety flared, it was your calming voices, the same voices that had quelled my shrill screaming as a child, that helped bring me back to earth.
Perhaps most important were the quiet moments of guidance. These are the moments when you may have given no real thought to what you were doing but I, your proud son, was taking mental note of every second like a voracious journalist. Those moments, both frequent and powerful, made me the person I am today: the one smiling back at you from the crowded sea of students.
As I begin to take my next baby steps into “real adulthood,” know that the person you have molded is ready to face the world. When I feel lost, confused, and shut-out, I will remember the person I became in your home. The person you taught me to be through sage advice and subtle cues. And, from now on, I hope that when you see my smile, my real, authentic smile, you can spot yourselves, standing at the corners of my lips holding them up as high as you can.
The middle child who actually got plenty of attention
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Jon Wingens is a recent graduate of Washington University in Saint Louis where he doubled majored in PNP (Philosophy, Neuroscience and Psychology) and Political Science. He is currently savoring his last days of freedom before he starts a job at Citibank in New York City.