Acceptance Letters: Parents, college and letting go

Father knows (some things) best

Christopher Zarka
August 25, 2014

I penned a letter to my daughter, Maria, just before she left for Kenyon the fall of her freshman year. Since leaving her home in Hawaii to make a new home in Ohio, Maria has completed two eventful years of college: declaring a film major, earning a 3.5 GPA, collecting two national diving championships, and being named NCAA Diver of the Year. While she certainly doesn’t need my advice on how to write an award-winning essay (she did that) or how to dive for another country in the Commonwealth Games (she’s doing that, too), I believe there are some words of wisdom only a parent can bestow.

Dear Maria,

Much has changed over the past 18 years.  To protect you from harm when you were young, I simply (over your loud protests) held you tight in a loving, but binding embrace.  No longer!  You’ve escaped those restrictive restraints and now are headed out on your own, far, far away in the land of Ohio.  All that is left for me to do is pay your tuition and bestow upon you this fatherly wisdom.

1. Balance work and fun. Why are you going to college?  Hopefully it is to have some serious fun, and also to challenge yourself academically. Make plenty of friends, participate in multiple activities, and enjoy yourself; but also manage your time effectively so as to easily pass all your classes, thus assuring your return for sophomore year.

2. Amuse bousche. This French term means, “tickle the mouth.”  Consider tasting, chewing, and experiencing one small bite of everything the college and the cafeteria offers. Take classes that tickle your brain.  Never skip a meal, especially breakfast (even though I know you will be sleeping until noon on weekends) and always leave the cafeteria with fruit for a late-night snack.

3. Get an early start to each day.  The corollary to the previous axiom is: No good comes from participating in any activity after midnight.  With a friend or training partner, begin each day with an exercise regimen, early breakfast, and shower—all before 8 in the morning. 

4. Be the ultimate team player.  Give more than is asked, expected, or required of you. Make the team better by contributing more than you take.  Depend on and trust the team.  Trust and work with the coaches.  A single person can make, or break, a team. 

5. Prepare to participate in class. Read ahead and review all the required materials well in advance of class. Have opinions about whatever you’re studying and don’t be afraid to speak up in class.  Talk to your classmates too, both inside and outside of class, about the material. Get to know at least one professor well every semester.  Better yet—get to know all four each semester.

6. Make your experience count.  Ask yourself before going to bed each night: Did I get my worth out of the day? Seize the day and sleep hard all night—not the other way around!  When you look back in your old age, the entire college experience should be something you remember fondly and without regret.