If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember this or this or this— none of which seems to have happened all that long ago, even if it seems like it was in a different lifetime. Which is a roundabout way of saying, my kiddos are graduating from college this year. In fact, one already graduated and the second graduation is this weekend. Since they were the inspiration for this project, I’m taking a break from my normal programming to do a little mom-bragging.

Gabi, whose biggest fear about college was that she’d have to choose between her right-brain and left-brain selves, double-majored in computer science and classics at the University of Chicago. Her thesis project was creating a database that’s searchable by god, so that a classicist could, for example, search for references to Poseidon across different geographical regions or time periods. In her second year, a mentor from an outside scholarship she had recommended that she apply for an internship at United Airlines. She worked there the past two summers and received an offer for a full-time job starting in August. So she’ll be putting her left brain to work right away, and seeking out hobbies to feed the right brain.

I wrote each of my kids a letter when they went away to college. In Gabi’s I wrote, “‘Crescat Scientia; vita excolatur*’ and UChicago are such a perfect fit for you as you stand on the threshold of your past and your future. Your boundless curiosity has already led you to so much knowledge and experience. And as your knowledge grows from more to more, you’ll have countless opportunities to enrich human life: your own and others. The hardest part for you will be—as it has always been—choosing among amazing opportunities.” She’s participated in a huge range of activities– study abroad in Greece, writing for the student newspaper, an internship at the professional theater on campus, student theater and choir, intramural sports, UChicago’s annual Scav and so much more– through which she’s met an amazing group of friends and mentors and learned so much about herself and the world around her. I just hope the world is ready for her!

Alex earned his BS in business from the University of Arizona. A kid who struggled academically in high school, he graduated magna cum laude, was invited to the honors college after freshman year and tutored statistics on campus. It’s more than safe to say that he found a place where he could thrive academically, and he’s made the most of it these past four years.

I included a copy of the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” in Alex’s letter, since he’s always been someone to blaze his own trail regardless of what the crowd is doing. In his letter I wrote, “You look for the path that’s less traveled and create your own future. Whether going to Camp Howard on your own, playing soccer for BSC, or so many of the other choices you’ve made over the years, you’ve shown yourself to be someone who’s willing not just to try new things, but to make those things a part of who you are. We know that your sense of adventure and willingness to try the unfamiliar rather than follow the crowd will serve you well on this next phase of your journey, and throughout your life.” And he did just that in his four years at a college he went to not knowing anyone. He found his people– and some additional scholarship dollars– on an esports team (video games, to the uninitiated), where he helped transition the program from a club to a varsity sport. He signed up as a free agent for intramural sports and joined the investment club in the business department.

He spent junior year diligently searching Handshake and applying for internships; one of his internship goals was to live somewhere new. After what seemed like 1,000 applications, he landed his dream position working in corporate finance at Ford. Like his sister, he received a job offer and will start full-time at Ford in the fall. (Side note: I’m super-proud of both of them but also sad that neither will be returning to Portland. An occupational hazard of parenting is that your kids might actually do what you intended and leave the nest and launch themselves.) I know that his sense of adventure and willingness to try new things will continue opening doors for him as he moves on to this next phase of his life.

Both have loved their college experiences– which doesn’t mean that everything has been smooth sailing. Covid, academics, friendships, housing issues– both have participated fully in the ups and downs of the college years. And as passionate as each is about their own college, I am pretty sure that neither of them would have liked going to the other’s college much at all. Each found a place that’s been a great fit, where they’ve learned a lot inside and outside the classroom, made great friends, and developed into really interesting young adult humans.

A few things that they and their friends have learned along the way stand out to me in ways that say, “I should tell you this!” So here goes:

  • Even if your campus makes it really easy to make new friends, you still have to show up and do it. Alex, being on a big campus, identified a few ways he would get involved from the start: he lived in an academic residential community in his dorm and signed up to play intramural sports and be assigned to a team. His best friends through his four years are some guys he met freshman year through the academic residential community, and he’s expanded his circle again and again through intramurals, esports and other activities. Gabi’s college structures social life around houses– smaller groups within the dorms– which really means you just have to show up and the group will pick you up and carry you along. But based on frequent posts on her school’s Facebook parents page from parents whose kids are lonely, it’s worth a reminder that you still have to show up. So whatever your campus offers, find something you’ll show up for. It may be walking down the hall to a house meeting, or it may be finding a club or intramural team or participating in Greek life. Just don’t forget to show up.
  • Some colleges (Gabi’s, for example) push all their resources onto students, making it very easy to find research projects, summer internships, extracurriculars, mental health assistance, tutoring, etc etc. Others (Alex’s, for example) leave it up to the students to pull out the resources they need. If you’re at one of the “pull” type of colleges, this does not mean there are no resources available to you. Chances are good that there’s a fairly similar set of resources as you would find at a “push” college; you just need to go find them yourself. P.S. This is a good life skill.
  • I tell people all the time that where you go to college is not the determinant of your future; plenty of data supports this. Successful people come out of all types of colleges, as do unsuccessful people. You are what determines who and what you’ll become. My kids bear this out. UChicago‘s acceptance rate in 2023 was 6%. The 75th percentile SAT Math score was 800. US News & World Report ranks UChicago among the top 10 colleges in the country. University of Arizona admitted more than 80% of applicants. The 75th percentile SAT Math score was below 700. The school is just outside US News‘ top 100 colleges. Their stats are quite different; of course, so are their missions. Our focus group of two confirms the research: but for their different majors and resulting different job functions (she in tech, he in finance), their job offers are virtually identical. Same salaries. Same benefits. Same career path. Same support for future MBAs if they stick around. Don’t worry about what US News says about a college; what matters is the experiences your kid has a student. And please don’t take this comparison as me slighting UofA. I could not be happier with the education Alex has received, and if you’re looking for a great education at a great price, Arizona should be on your list.

With that, I’m packing up for graduation #2 and a family trip to celebrate. Among other things, that means you won’t hear from me for a few weeks. I hope your school year ends on a high note!

* UChicago’s motto, “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”