After taking the fall semester off, my son Nick is ready to begin his college life in January at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, the "jewel by the bay." As he reported in this blog, Nick went through a period of distracted, teenage depression — his high school burn out years. He spent more time on YouTube than Algebra, causing his parents undue worry as they received calls from guidance counselors telling them that Nick was close to not graduating.
But graduate he did, with honors even—a fact that Nick says he knew would happen all along. Nick was fortunate to make several close, creative friends in high school. The boys created rock bands together, started graphic novel projects, wrote unfinished screenplays. Nick and his best friends decided not to go to college immediately, reflecting the current disdain for how much higher education can actually produce a stable and satisfying financial future. Their plan was to get jobs, save money, make music. Nick rejected plans for a more engaged or traveling "gap year."
Originally the gang was going to live in my Florida home while I was teaching in Chicago. After I thought through the legal implications of fun-loving, 18-year-old boys ransacking my house, logic beat out emotion. Nick has remained at his father’s house this fall and kept his part-time minimum wage job. He searched but did not find a second job to earn more. The other boys also struggled employment-wise. One friend found a valet job parking cars, the highest earning wages of any of the friends. Without reliable bus systems, cars, or reasonable car insurance costs ($2000 per year for teenagers), the best choice for many young people is going to college and living on or close to campus.
Nick admitted to me that he was bored silly at home and wondered why I did not force him to start college in August. (Lesson learned.) Nick also worried about his friends, many of whom have parents who are overextended, both financially and emotionally, or absent from the application process. I’ve been surprised to discover that it takes a parent’s full attention (as well as the child’s) to navigate choices, decisions and costs.
My own negligence has caused problems. Missed deadlines and bureaucratic snafus take weeks to negotiate. (Work study students do not always give the correct answers on the phone.) I try to keep these irritants from spoiling the belief that college is a wonderful opportunity, instead of simply the next required experience following high school.
Fortunately, Nick went to his Orientation last Friday and got inspired by his Honors program director, while his father tried to figure out financial aid and immunization records (which some office had misplaced). When I arrived on Saturday, I continued making immunization and dorm room phone calls, while trying to talk to my daughter, Katie, about her own impending application deadlines. After a while, Katie refused to listen any more because-- “The only thing you ever talk about is college!” Unfortunately, Katie may be correct. But I talk about college so much because it is a complicated process to get there!
We will all be happy to pack up the car in January and drop Nick off at his dorm room (that I’m still crossing my fingers he gets). I hope I won’t start weeping at the door…