Leaving for College
By Carolyn Rose and Mike Nettleton
Recently we held an off-to-college shower for a young friend headed for college.
Kailynn Doane isn’t going far from home—about 50 miles—but it isn’t just distance that makes a journey. She’s leaving familiar things behind, taking on more responsibility, crossing some of the many thresholds to adulthood.
As she opened her gifts and suffered with a smile through a round of advice from relatives and friends, I thought of my own journey. And I wondered how I ever found the guts to make it.
In 1965 I went from a relatively sheltered life in a small town in the Catskills to the University of Arizona. I knew no other students on the huge campus. I was assigned to a dorm room with three strangers who came from wealthier, more cosmopolitan families. I heard Spanish spoken outside of a classroom and tasted my first Mexican food.
Except for the fact that I could hold an A- average, I knew I wasn’t what sororities were looking for. I was awkward and unsure of myself and knew nothing about where to shop and what to wear. My mother worried that I wouldn’t make many friends. And by some standards I didn’t.
But I got what I went for—escape and education. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my family and the Catskills, but that was a world I already knew and one where people had expectations that made me feel boxed in. So I made the leap and, except for the year I played too much bridge, I focused hard on getting my degree. That turned into a big ticket to ride that got me jobs in TV newsrooms in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.
I’ll never regret making that leap, the springboard for so many others since. And, looking at Kailynn’s smile, I doubt that she will have regrets, either.
Watching Kailynn, good sport that she is, eat cake, open her gifts and put up with a gaggle of overprotective (but loving) adults dishing out advice they would have ignored offhand when they were her age, I tried to remember what it all felt like.
Like Kailynn, I started my college career at a small school within an hour’s drive of my parent’s home. Southern Oregon College (not that many years removed from being called Southern Oregon Normal School, a teacher’s college) nestled in the hills fifteen miles north of the California border. More of its students commuted from nearby cities and towns than lived on campus.
I’d visited Oregon State and Oregon and found myself overwhelmed by the size of the campus and immensity of the lecture halls. As an underachieving B student I felt like I might stand a better chance with less competition.
Another large difference between my experience and Carolyn’s was the proximity to my home town. I recognized familiar faces from the get-go at SOC. She faced an ocean of strangers. Had to be scary.
Still, some of what I was feeling and dealing with had to be similar. I’d be living with a stranger for a year (we soon became fast friends), scheduling my own classes and making my own decisions about the course my life would take. I felt like the baby bird that is booted out of the nest and told to fly or hit the ground hard.
Carolyn, focused person that she is, finished her degree on time, with good grades and moved on to graduate school. I, having no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, pinned a class schedule up on the board and threw darts at it (symbolically, not literally), taking whatever classes interested me.
My running joke is that I attended Southern Oregon off and on for most of six years and with one more term of biology would have been a junior.
But college accomplished the same thing for me that it did for Carolyn. It helped shape what kind of person I would become, provided me with lasting friendships, a trove of rich memories, and in it’s own back-door fashion led to my finding a career. Thanks to my start at campus radio KSOR (the big sore atop the science building) people would pay me to talk for the next forty plus years. Quite a difference from the days when my older sisters offered me money to shut up.
I’m excited for Kailynn and a tad envious too. And I feel honored that I could be there to help push her out of the nest. I haven’t the slightest doubt that she’ll fly.