Acceptance Letters: Parents, college and letting go

Taking the Long View of Kenyon

Robert Daugherty
April 17, 2017

One rite of passage for my forties was visiting the ophthalmologist for reading glasses, as I found myself needing to view from a distance what always had been easy to view up close.

Looking back to 2015, my daughter, Caroline, was finishing her high school career and in the midst of the college admissions process. What we had been viewing so closely, we now needed a view from a distance. Both Caroline and I had to take a step back from the all-consuming whirlwind of applications, visits and decisions. The title of Frank Bruni’s book about college admissions sums it up nicely: “Where you go is not who you’ll be.” I felt like the focus should be on who my daughter was and what she would make of her opportunities. But unfortunately, it was a time when most friends and classmates were focused on where they were going, and in many cases, where they were not going.

That spring, just as college decisions were being released, my daughter found herself confined to bed with mononucleosis. Quite honestly, I found it hard to take the longer view of the college decision in the midst of a short-term crisis. My daughter was receiving her rejections and acceptances in bed, and we were wondering if she was in the right state of mind for making such a big decision. When she was accepted to Kenyon with an unexpected scholarship, we were taken by surprise. It was as if everything we had been trying to view up close now gave us pause to step back and look at things from a distance.

After a second visit to Gambier, where we met with faculty and students, our daughter chose Kenyon, answering the question of where she would go. Fast forward to the end of her sophomore year, with the benefit of more hindsight, and I now see the answer to who she has become. She has found a community of learners and friends, and I am in awe of the expansion she has experienced in so many ways. I revel in our visits now, just to see how she’s grown and matured. The Kenyon faculty have truly partnered with her and opened her to opportunities including a National Science Foundation grant for summer study and an upcoming experience abroad at the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics.

I find that most of us have no problem drilling into the details when the time for college selection draws near — acceptance rates, rankings, costs, aid packages and so on.  It becomes the common syntax for higher education consumers. So when you consider your child’s future, please look up close — examine the details of the process — and squint if you must. But I also encourage you to take a longer, more distant view. Ask if you can see your son or daughter thriving in a rich environment of learners. Do the residential campus and student life seem like fits for who your child will be? That view, the glimpse of who she can be, has made all the difference for my daughter, and for me as a proud Kenyon parent. And now, two years into the journey, I’ve met faculty and administrators who will be her peers and mentors for a long time to come, as I fully expect her community of leaners on the hill to be a community of learners for life.