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Darrell Huckaby: Bittersweet as students head for college

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

Now is that bittersweet time of year when my most recent former students stop in to say their goodbyes before heading off to college towns -- from South Bend, Ind., to Tuscaloosa, Ala., and points in between and points far beyond.

It's interesting to sit and talk to them and try to gauge their excitement against their apprehension. Believe me -- they all have plenty of both. There are so many decisions they must make before they ever leave home, but those are small potatoes when compared to the ones they will be forced to make on a daily, if not hourly, basis once they arrive on campus.

One of the biggest decisions, especially for the kids going to the larger schools, is whether to rush or not rush. I don't know why it is but most of the girls I teach seem to opt for sorority life while most of the young men that survive my class go the independent route.

I have had dozens of conversations over the past two weeks with college bound kids and the one thing they all fear is being lonely. It's understandable. They have made really great friends during their high school days -- one student told me, "I hope I find good people to hang out with because I sure am leaving a good crowd behind" -- and they hate to say goodbye. Of course all college freshmen are not created equal, particularly in the maturity department.

While some worry about finding friends with common interests and avoiding falling in with the wrong crowd, others are headed to Athens and Valdosta and Statesboro and lower Alabama and their primary question is when the next party starts. I tell those kids that if they get arrested and their name is in the paper that I will put that paper on the current events bulletin board in my classroom.

I don't know if that has ever dissuaded a student from doing anything foolish but I did have a young man tell me one time, who had run afoul of the law, that the only thing he thought about as he was being booked into the Clarke County jail was being talked about in my class the next day.

After companionship I think the thing kids worry about most is dorm living. All dorm rooms are not created equal, either. Some are spacious apartments or suites with semi-private bathroom and shower facilities and others are tiny cramped living spaces with a community toilet down the hall. Most are somewhere in between.

Kids are scared to death about their roommates -- as well they should be. They are about to be living in extremely close quarters -- often with a total stranger who is randomly assigned for at least a year in most cases. Sometimes the people who are living with their best friends from high school worry the most -- as well they should.

But things usually work out. I've never had a single student who was attacked in his sleep by their roommate and I've only had a handful that have had their property stolen or violated, so there is a good chance that the new batch of freshmen will have good luck in that category, too.

For kids who are going to schools where football is a big part of the social scene, getting game tickets is a huge concern -- and many of them start planning tailgate reunions months in advance. Some students worry about getting homesick and others worry about finding jobs and a few worry not that their parents won't be at college to take care of them, but that they won't be at home to take care of their parents.

I told you this period was bittersweet. But it is an exciting time as the people you have invested so much time and energy and effort into over the past few years care enough to come by and say "so long," especially when you realize that what they are really saying is "thank you," or even "I love you."

And every time a kid comes by to see me as they leave for college -- and I mean every stinking time -- I find myself wishing I were going with them. We've all said it. If I could just go back and do it over again, knowing what I know now. It's the universal dream of the older generation.

I tell my students that, too. I tell them to make their four years of college -- or five or six -- the best years of their lives, because most of us never get a do-over. And most of the kids I teach follow the advice and when Christmas break rolls around and they stop back by the school to tell me about the things they worried too much about and the things that caught them off-guard, I am amazed at how much confidence they have gained in four short months.

They ask me why I continue to teach. As the poet once said, "Where else could I find such splendid company?"

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.