Early every fall on college campuses large and small, family vehicles line up near dorms and a new class of freshmen steps out into the big intersection of freedom and responsibilities. Parents are stepping, too, of course, but stepping back – away from the college, out of their child's daily life, and to a long drive home.
As a father of two college grads, my wife and I know that drive, both of us astonished again, to think an 18-year assignment just ended.
On the other side of the equation, as a college president, I'm also one of the adults still on campus as parents leave. New York Times stories may spill out the horrors of what can go wrong on campus, but I can also attest to ample goodness in this passage to a wide new world.
I thought a few reminders might help.
Our school in East Texas is not ivy-covered, geographically central, or large. Our sports teams don't make ESPN; our name causes doubletakes. Students here, on the other hand, come from all 50 states and dozens of other countries. They skew intelligent and highly creative. And we're in the business, frequently one-on-one, of giving them the goods to go into life with work that matters. This is great stuff.
Think of the courses you loved in college, the ones that pop to mind sometimes even now. Chances are 99 percent that you got hooked on the professor's love of the subject. Why? Because learning involves love. And learning is relational. Learning is that X factor between a good teacher and an engaged student, between students lost in discussion on a difficult topic . . . or as the student runs into new life experience.
Did someone say experience? Besides the classroom, learning is what happens hands-on in practice, in exploration, in "try it a different way now" and another get-to. In preparing sons and daughters for a wide world, the village it takes is seriously hands-on.
We want your sons and daughters to leave home and fall in love early with the heady brew of caffeine-like conversations, professors that know their names, exams set at a high bar, a student body that brings the world to class, and, most important, the meaning that slips under and lifts why we learn, why to care, why college is no end in itself but an HOV lane to What Matters.
A woman I know was told by her history teacher in high school that college is "four years when all you do is think about yourself." We know that can be painfully, painfully true. We've all seen the narcissism that can spread in a 20 year old trapped in the dead-end of self-absorption.
But schools have individual cultures. That's why parents and their high schoolers visit campuses, go online, talk, compare, negotiate, ask questions, and do the hard labor to see what's out there.
By the end of his life, our university founder was giving away 90 percent of his income and keeping 10 percent. The idea of living for himself, or working for himself, or learning to serve himself had long, long ago disappeared.
R.G. LeTourneau's drive to sharpen his mind to serve humankind got in the drinking water. To a small town in East Texas, that X factor attracts committed professors, tugs students from 40 countries and sends all our students back into the world.
Parents miss their kids. Oh, well I know. Skype can't compare to having your daughter linger talking in the door frame. No text or phone call will replace your son's walk through the front door.
But remember: You worked 18 years with this season in mind. You knew there would be other doors – big doors.
You've just handed off a new set of keys.