My eldest child is a high school junior and I have officially joined the ranks of parents immersed in - and overwhelmed by - the college search process. My first goal was to simply show my son that anything is possible: the classic “world is your oyster” message.
But I might have gone a little over the top. Recently, I took him and his best buddy to California where we used to live, and toured 5 colleges in 5 days on a 700-mile road trip, staying with friends and family. We looked at a few UCs, Cal Polytech and Stanford. It was a great trip and he described nearly all the schools as “chill”, which is high praise.
But after all the planning and feeling like a rock-star parent, somewhere between San Francisco and Santa Barbara it hit me: I don’t want my kids moving 3,000 miles away! What was I thinking?
On the long drive down the coast, while the boys played DJ, snoozed and gazed at the the Pacific, I figured it out.
I was doing what my parents hadn’t. My Mum and Dad grew up in tiny villages in England, left school early to work, lived through World War II, immigrated and just struggled to pay the bills. They never considered our family to be “college material”.
They not only didn't help me go to college, they discouraged it.
Mum advised me to be a secretary and get married, pointedly demanding “who did I think I was”? Since we lived in Palo Alto right next to Stanford University, where my granddad was a gardener, her words cut to the core of my then-budding intellectual self.
What she didn’t know - and what I didn’t either, back then - is that when I set my sights on something, I become tenacious. Though it took a while to afford tuition, at the ripe old age of 22, I enrolled at San Francisco State University. Working two jobs, after nine years of attending part time, I eventually earned a BA in Art History, even graduating cum laude.
It was a dream come true and I was headhunted by a top gallery right after getting my degree, but it was a late start in the professional world. I made a promise to myself that, if I ever had kids, I'd do all I could to help them get to college.
So this trip was as much about keeping this promise to myself, as it was about simply trying to be a supportive parent. My main goal was to just plant the seed of possibility in my son’s mind, and I think, on that count, I succeeded.
During the flight on the way back, he asked, “So... if I got a BA at a more... low-key college, could I still go to grad school at, like... Stanford?”
“Yes,” I replied, trying to contain my nearly volcanic inner joy, “yes you can!”