On the third floor of the University Club of San Francisco was a gathering of complete strangers. The common element among the participants was that many of young adults would soon be leaving to begin their freshmen year at Williams College. The remaining guests in the collegiate wood paneled room on top of Nob Hill were the parents of those incoming freshmen to Williams. This was the Williams College Northern California send-off party where the parents were more giddy and excited than the incoming freshmen.
Parents network with excitement
In my experience, when you gather a room full of middle age strangers together we tend to be very reserved, more interested in observing than participating. But this group of adults, both young and old, was anxious and excited about the impending start of the 2015 Williams College freshmen year. I’ve never been approached by, nor have I approached, as many strangers with a hand shake, a smile, and questions such as – Which of the students is your child? Where are you from? How did your child hear about Williams? and When are you flying out?
Williams College send-off success
The Williams college send-off party was as much of a bonding and affirmation experience for the freshmen as it was for the parents. The incoming freshmen were on one side of the room and the parents were on the other. The prevailing sentiment was that most of us parents had never heard of Williams until our high school son or daughter said they were applying to the college. Even though we had schooled ourselves, or our children did, on the outstanding curriculum and the undergraduate experience of Williams, the college remained a bit of a mystery.
We all had performed our due diligence on vetting Williams College as an appropriate selection for our children. It became apparent that our children were applying to a wonderful and selective institution and we dutiful counselled them to make sure they had a back-up school just in case they were not admitted. But they were admitted and we had to pinch ourselves to make sure this wasn’t a dream. Out here in California we all recounted how we had suffered the indignity of proudly announcing our child’s acceptance by Williams only to have the recipient of this wonderful news return a blank stare and inquire, “Where’s Williams?”
New California friends for the east coast
Finally, all of us parents of Williams bound students were gathered together and there was no need to explain what this four year liberal arts college was about. We have a shared experience of learning about Williams and then realizing that being accepted to Williams is equal to or greater than the achievement of being admitted either Cal Berkeley or Stanford. On this evening, we shared that common bond and we tried not to focus on the fact that our children were instantly making new friends for their new life thousands of miles away from us.
Supportive and affirming atmosphere
If any of the parents or students had over inflated expectations about their choice to attend Williams College they were not on display this evening. If anything, the decision to attend this small liberal arts college in a rural hamlet of northwest Massachusetts was only supported by the Williams’s staff, current Williams’s students, and alumni in attendance at the send-off party. Our children were not moving thousands of mile away to a collection of strangers; they were entering the domicile of a new and extended family.
Full parental support
And the parents, if they chose, would be entering the circle of fellow parents whose children had chosen Williams as the launch pad for their future life and career. It was all very reassuring from a parent perspective. A common refrain I heard from parents was complete support for their child’s decision. The parental support was punctuated with the understanding that if Williams was their child’s choice, the parents would do all they could to make sure that it happened. This was a not so subtle nod to the costs of a private college.
A good value for our child’s talent and grit
The other parents were just like me; they had researched the various college options, costs, and eventual benefits of such an education. We had applied the cold, hard cost-benefit analysis of the initial expense of a four year liberal arts degree versus the future personal, professional, and financial benefits for our children. Given the demonstrated academic talent and grit of our children’s success in high school and achievement on college exams such as the SATs and ACTs, it was easy to support our children’s decision to attend Williams.
The ship experience to forget
With the casual send-off party festivities concluded my son and I ventured out to find a late evening dinner in the City. As we walked it occurred to me that the last time Walker and I spent the night in San Francisco it was a miserable experience on a ship in the bay. Eight years earlier on a fourth grade field trip we spent the night on the old 19th century wooden merchant ship called the Balclutha. He had a nasty cold, the weather was miserable, and I had to “stand watch” at 2 am on the deck in the rain. It was an utterly forgettable father-son experience.
Freshmen who actually read books
This evening was a stark contrast to the little boy with a perpetual frown and runny nose on board an old sailing vessel. Walker had found his tribe of fellow William’s freshmen. At dinner he told me he really enjoyed the evening – a rare admission on his part. The best part he said was talking about books and literature with his fellow students. Who knew that a common bond and shared experience for young adults in 2015 would be their impressions of great works of literature? There is hope for humanity after all.
Cry me a river
Next, we have one last family vacation as we fly back to Albany, N.Y., and motor over to Williamstown to move him into the dormitory. Walker will undoubtedly see some familiar faces from the send-off party. More than likely I’ll be able to greet some of the parents I met in San Francisco. We’ll have another shared experience of helping our child transition from the temperate climate of California to an environment that actually has seasons. I have the feeling that the tears shed during the move-in event, if collected, could end the epic drought that California has been experiencing.