I just got an email from President Burstein about parking at graduation and promptly burst into tears. I can’t think about even the picayune details of the milestone you are about to mark without crying. There are a lot of things in my life I am proud of — and no shortage of things I’m not — but watching as you graduate from a good liberal arts college is a feeling of pride and joy I am not sure I can communicate.
I never dared dream this for myself. To see what it’s done for you is a benediction.
Your dad and I had advantages. We got good but not great educations and we used them to build a life where you got a better one. I am acutely aware of the privilege inherent here, and I know you are, too. I spend my days trying to pay it forward, and as I hear you talk about what’s next, I know that’s your goal too.
But this is not that letter. This is to celebrate that you worked very hard at something special, which is to explore who you are and who you are in relation to the world. You are both not the person who enrolled four years ago and very much that person — more surefooted, more self-aware, more … you.
I am put to mind of the little pot of money your grandma gave us back when you were in high school to go on college tours. It was uncanny how you knew, within minutes of stepping onto each campus, whether it felt like home. You loved old Hogwarts buildings and lit up at the stories about pranking rival schools. Ever the debate champ, you were after diversity of thought and probed for it.
I am scrolling through the photos on my phone of you on our trips. At the time, I felt like such a subpar parent when I realized your classmates’ families had organized tours that took in multiple campuses. You and I would visit one and then go have fun.
Years on, I am glad we did it that way. We got the information we needed about what kinds of schools you should apply to, and then we had what I now know is an incredible gift: Unstructured time, just the two of us, floating around new places learning things about each other. We had brunch at a gay bar in Philly and pretended to be in the market for a Tesla in LA.
Do you remember the morning we left for freshman welcome week? The car was stuffed with crap we spent exactly 20 minutes picking out at Bed, Bath and Beyond and your dad and then-girlfriend were in the alley crying so we were crying and you looked over at me and said, “Drive.”
We didn’t come up for air until Eau Claire, when one of us decided you should read your first freshman studies book, Natasha Trethewey’s “Native Guard” —about the experiences of the Black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy — out loud. The poems were evocative and beautiful and as much as I enjoyed them I enjoyed your close read more.
I envied you that class. Purloined the books you brought home so I could have a taste. I was so proud to hear you turned in a paper about Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” that was nominated for a writing award. I was so torqued you wouldn’t let me read it.
I have loved visiting you. The first trips we did things you were dying to do but were out of reach except as treats. The all macaroni and cheese restaurant. That bizarrely out of place and unexpectedly good soul food restaurant that serves… macaroni and cheese.
It was sometime during your sophomore year when you started planning for those visits to include things you thought I would enjoy. The farmer’s market. The brunch place with a menu built around family farm offerings. The out-of-the-way creameries. At the thought of it I again burst into tears: All those years you were taking notes.
Side note: This this this is why and how those heavy-paper alumni magazines hoover money out of parental pockets.
You are ready to be done. I had thought I was not. As I sit here pondering that (and crying), it occurs to me that you’ve left a little trail of breadcrumbs about how to think about what, for me, comes after you claim your next steps. It’s incumbent on me to figure out how to let go of the parenting, the managing, the worrying — while keeping the reading list of big ideas, the artisan cheese and the goal of spending our time together enjoying our same-but-different ways of engaging with the world.
You have the biggest heart, the most astonishing sense of loyalty and so many skills to put to work shoring up the garbage fire of a world my generation shamefully has forced onto yours. I wish for you a chance to take the self-exploration of the last four years and use it as a base to discover your next act. You’ve got this. I couldn’t be more excited to see what you do with it.
Now, if you will excuse me I am off to figure out where President Burstein wants me to park. It had better be far enough away that I have enough time for a good cry.