Sunday, April 5, 2015

The College Visit

I graduated from Temple University's School of Communications and Theater with a journalism degree in hand, ready to conquer the "real" world and leave my carefree college days behind.

I could barely imagine nearly three decades would pass before I returned to the school, located two miles north of Philadelphia's thriving center city.

A school that held so many memories.

Good memories.

Awesome memories.

Memories that came back, in all of their vivid glory, when I set foot on the campus on a recent Friday, my daughter Melissa, a high school junior, by my side.

Melissa came to this college tour somewhat unsure of what to expect. The product of a suburban upbringing, she originally dismissed the idea of a large urban campus like Temple, thinking that a small rural or suburban college would suit her just fine.  However, when I learned she wanted to emulate her mom and study public relations and communications, I strongly suggested she at least visit my alma mater.

The university has changed, grown, evolved with the times.  In my day, if a student ordered a "Grande Espresso Macchiato" from the campus cafeteria, she would get nothing but a confused stare in return. Today, students can order their macchiato at 3:00 in the morning if they want, thanks to the 24-hour Starbucks that provides much-needed caffeine to co-eds cramming for finals.

But improvements in the coffee offerings are just the beginning.  In my day, (the paleolithic era) students wrote their term papers using an electric typewriter. Today, the campus boasts a sophisticated tech center with hundreds of MACs and PCs, new restaurants, a hotel, and the completely renovated and barely recognizable student center where I whiled away so many hours of my college experience.

Yet, some things still remained the same. The famous hut selling piping hot soft pretzels to ravenous students, the open spaces, the trees, the park benches where, as an incoming freshman, I sat quietly observing the new world around me, relishing in the joy of knowing it was ok, on a campus of 25,000 students, to simply be alone.

It had been a cathartic contrast to high school, where it was defintely not ok to be alone.

In my high school, students were unfairly labeled by their peers as   "the popular kids"  "the geeks"  "the jocks", or "the druggies."   But then, there were the students like me. The lonely, awkward kids who failed to fit into any of these categories.  The kids who didn't draw attention...who failed to be noticed. The kids who were loners.

Loners who were unfairly labeled as losers.

College changed all that.

I entered Temple University and embraced my individuality, my solitude, my willingness to sit alone on a park bench where nobody judged me.  It was a feeling unlike any I had experienced in my young life.

I felt liberated.

I felt free.

Happily, the solitude I so willingly embraced did not last for long. A group of friends entered my new college world. Friends who became inseparable during my tenure at Temple.  A group of wonderful people who never put a label on me, who only loved me for me....and 28 years later, still do!

The soft echoes of those carefree days full of friendship and laughter followed me as Melissa and I joined the guided campus tour. We visited the tech center and the School of Media and Communications, the dorms and the dining halls (Melissa's favorite!).  We learned about the curriculum, the wide range of course offerings, the extra curricular activities, internships opportunities, and dozens of ways to get involved, make new friends, and gain valuable experience in preparation for the "real" world.

In my daughter I could sense that familiar longing to break free from the confines and conformity of high school and embrace this new world far beyond the comfort of our quiet suburban neighborhood.

As I looked at Melissa, her face full of wonder, the memories of my college days began to quietly fade away.

For this day, this wonderful moment in time, belonged to Melissa's future, not to her mother's past.

And whether she chooses Temple, or finds another school that's the perfect match, if she's anything like her mom...I know she'll do just fine!

Melissa and me, during a tour of Temple University, enjoying a "famous" soft pretzel

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