In the last four days, I drove my daughter through four different states to look at eight separate colleges. Since she had already seen schools on the west coast, the middle of the country and several “safety schools,” it was time to complete the picture. We saw mostly those private institutions used as magical backdrops for movies like, “Love Story,” and “Mona Lisa Smile.” You know, the ones with vast, green lawns, ivy climbing up the brick walls, and scullers rowing through the pristine lakes; the ones to which many apply but few are chosen.
Frankly, the experience made me want to go back to college myself. It’s amazing what you miss the first time around. But this is her time not mine. And while she may have been assessing the ‘cute boy factor’ as I marveled at the landscape, what we both noticed most were not the buildings, private art collections, dormitory food or even course selections—it was the people.
So it did not surprise me afterwards when she told me what her favorite had been. It was the one where the cop motioned us to Admissions with a big smile after we got lost; the one where we were offered a steaming cup of orange spice tea as we waited for the tour; and the one where every student we passed was happy to stop and talk to us about their experience. It was the one, of course, where I hope she will apply and be accepted.
But life being what it is, she may well end up at a school she has not even seen yet. Truth is, that’s okay, too. Because wherever she lands, I am counting on the fact that she will be that friendly face others want to be around, too.
When I was 12, my grandmother gave me a Brownie camera when I went to New York City for the first time. I took hundreds of pictures of skyscrapers, bridges, and traffic. Upon my return, I proudly showed her my efforts. She flipped through the black and white snapshots, paused, and then handed them back to me. “Darling,” she said kindly, “the next time you take a picture, always be certain there are people in it. Those will be the ones that mean the most to you when you are older.” Some things are just so true they are truth itself. (Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of the years before and after her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s. http://www.helen-hudson.com.