The other day I was chatting with a friend who has an office in the same building as mine. His daughter and my daughter are both college seniors — his studying remotely at ‘home’ and mine on campus but primarily taking remote classes.
We were comparing notes and I mentioned how I had recently made a quick trip to campus to deliver some items my daughter needed. It was a strange trip — consisting mostly of a masked hug on the sidewalk in front of her residence hall and the handoff of an IKEA bag full of the things she had requested, and then we were on our way home.
I miss my daughter’s college campus
I confided in my friend how strange it felt. “You miss the campus, don’t you?’ He said. “I miss it too, I miss visiting her on campus so much.” It’s that simple. That dissatisfied feeling I had? That weird ache that signified the absence of something? It was the campus. I missed the campus.
As an alum of my daughter’s college, every trip to campus — from moving her in each year to family weekend to random trips to take her out to lunch — felt like coming home. Now of course in the thirty-plus years since my own graduation the campus had grown and changed – new buildings, a new parking garage, a new field house to replace the ancient one where I had danced the night away to the sounds of Squeeze or cheered on my roommates in the campus lip sync contest, and now a shiny new performing arts center rising in the middle of what had been student parking — all these changes served to differentiate the campus of my youth with my daughter’s campus. And I loved it all.
I loved the old and the new. I loved browsing in the bookstore and pretending I wasn’t going to buy my daughter another overpriced sweatshirt or fleece. I loved getting coffee in the student union and feeling the hum of campus around me as she called out to friends passing by. I loved seeing students streaming in and out of the library, or heading to or from the athletic center for various team practices.
As an alum of the same theater department where she now studies, I loved going to see her perform on the very stage where I learned how to be an actor. I loved seeing professors I used to have and meeting new ones and hearing them tell me how much they loved teaching my girl.
I loved seeing the campus I love through the eyes of the person I love
I loved seeing her roommates, taking her and her friends out for lunch or dinner. I even loved carrying her stuff in and out of her dorm room smiling in tacit understanding to other parents doing the same thing. I had four perfect years on that campus on the hill and through my girl, I got to land right back in the sweet spot of seeing a world I loved through the eyes of someone I loved more than anything in the world.
Even by early in her junior year I was anticipating her senior year, planning to stay overnight during family weekend rather than the quick round trip I usually did, thinking about booking a hotel for graduation, anticipating her senior shows on the stage we both loved so much, the academic conference where she’d present her thesis, even the dress I’d buy her for her senior ball.
I knew that year would be so special and would bring me even more opportunities to complain about the hills and the stairs and the wind all the while being secretly so happy to be back among the buildings and green spaces I loved so much.
By the middle of her junior year all that had changed. The campus closed down due to the pandemic and for the next 11 months, my daughter studied at home, finishing her junior year and starting her senior year from her childhood bedroom.
While I loved having her home I found myself looking at campus photos online thinking of how I wished I could be visiting her there on a warm autumn day — the kind of day that would show up in your Google image search “classic New England college campuses.” Upon hearing that students would be welcomed back for the spring semester brightened my spirits, even as my heart tugged at the thought of her absence.
I was so happy she would get some semblance of a ‘real’ senior year and I couldn’t wait to be back on campus as well.
With this year’s restrictions campus is just different than it was
With pandemic restrictions, campus isn’t the same. All but one building are off-limits to visitors, and college activities are all virtual if they’re happening at all. But we make the best of it. She sends me funny texts and photos and we FaceTime. I sign up for virtual Family Week activities and watch streaming, rather than in person, theater department productions. I remind myself often that none of this is about me.
I brighten at the news that spring and a turning tide of vaccinations are bringing ‘real’ graduation. I hope that we can be there in person to celebrate her and her best friends as they cap off not just four years of study, but also this truly challenging year. I take comfort in the silver lining to sharing an alma mater with my child, for in our future are reunions and homecomings and welcoming her into a vibrant and supportive alumni community.
Meanwhile, the college announces a full return to in-person learning for the Fall. In my college parents’ group, the parents of freshmen and newly admitted students celebrate —as they should. And as they do, I allow myself to grieve a tiny bit, to mourn this time that has been stolen from us. I allow myself to miss the campus.