Letting go of children can be so hard to do

My fellow workers have gone through it, and now my wife Marlene and I went through it this past Sunday – the release of a child into the independent phase of their life.

We took our daughter Bailey, 19, to the University of Minnesota, Morris campus, where she is now sharing a 10’x16’ room with another college student named Sam (short for Samantha).

Bringing Bailey there and then driving home without her was bittersweet. The sweet part was seeing the campus she is enrolled in. It is beautiful, with lush green grass, a profusion of hardwood trees mixed with a few evergreens and crab apple trees, an undulating landscape and all these brown brick buildings, in close proximity to each other like a village.

The campus was the original home of an American Indian boarding school, administered by the Sisters of Mercy order of the Catholic church, and then later by the federal government. That school closed in 1909 and was transferred to the state of Minnesota which established the West Central School of Agriculture on the Morris campus. These ag schools were phased out in the late 1950s and people lobbied the legislature to create the UMM liberal arts college, which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2010.

Teams of UMM upperclassmen helped families move the freshmen’s belongings into the dorms on Sunday, making that part swift. Trying to fit everything into a student’s space in a dorm room took longer, and some things didn’t fit.

Bailey’s mandolin, tennis racket and trumpet were reminders of the life she had in Princeton. She must not be too sentimental as I didn’t notice any pictures of her family going up in her space in her dorm room at Pine Hall, while her roommate Sam put up enough family photos to fill an 11×14-inch frame. Bailey’s big pictures consisted of two posters of singer, guitar player, Jack Johnson. (I suspect some pictures from Bailey’s home will appear at some point there.)

The UMM’s orientation ceremony was impressive, with a couple of the school’s color guard members leading the freshmen into the gym in a procession in front of mostly parents in the bleachers. UMM Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson’s speech on holding on and letting go hit the nerve dead center that many in that room were likely feeling. We parents had to let go of our children and let them begin their independence.

Fifty-two upperclassmen were introduced, one by one, during the ceremony as being leaders in various groups around campus or having excelled in something noteworthy, such as an initiative to feed the hungry or being in overseas endeavors.

Bailey was anxious that day, even though there were a handful of other UMM freshmen from Princeton, including Bailey’s best friend Mel Trunk. The anxiousness, I believe, played a large part into her calling home in the middle of her first night on campus. I let the phone ring until Marlene would pick it up, which worked out best. I had to be at work the next morning and she didn’t, and Bailey’s question needed a nurse to answer, which Marlene is and I am not.

I am thrilled that Bailey can seek an education in such an atmosphere, a university that is highly regarded. I hear more critics today of liberal arts degrees talking about the number of college grads not getting the job they studied for. Of course, college is not for everyone, but I remain hopeful that Bailey will at least prepare herself to get a job she likes and will earn a living wage. I know that she will soak up a variety of viewpoints and become a more rounded person. My hope for her and all of these students is that they can use their knowledge to improve the world. Will it be to stop a disease, find energy solutions, or perhaps figure out how people with different viewpoints can stop warring?

I believe the world is better off for these universities because I think what is hurting our world so much now are the extremes in viewpoints, the polarization, the closed-mindedness to things that some consider abnormal.

I wanted to soak in fine details of the UMM campus as I walked into it on Sunday. After a short distance, I came across an old library filing card lying on the grass. On one side were notes on classes that a student must have written. On the other side was old library filing card info on a book or two on certain Eastern religions. Looking at that card made me instantly feel comfortable that our daughter was in the right place. The note card reminded me of the experiences I got to have after high school, of meeting so many new people and learning, not just in college, but while travelling. It was all part of being open to something new.

Best wishes Bailey, Mel, and all the others just leaving their high school days behind.

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