Freshmen Roommates

Next Friday, Freshman Move-In Day, I will meet my roommate in Williamsburg. We both opted for a computer pairing because neither of us knew anyone going to William and Mary. Based on our residence hall life questionnaires, specifying “a non smoker, no late nights” and despite a preference for “suite bath,” a computer introduced us. She hails from Virginia Beach, I from Chincoteague Island, so we also have the Chesapeake Bay in common. That was about it. She ran track in high school and I was in band. Her father was career Navy; mine passed away the summer after my junior year. In written exchanges, she was exuberant and extroverted. I was reserved and introspective. I was a little worried. How would we get along? How would we live together?

That was August 1978.

Thirty-five years later, almost to the day, Carolyn and I are meeting in Williamsburg again, to help move my daughter and her goddaughter, Katie, into senior year. It also happens to be Freshman Move-In Day.

We’ve been back to campus together many times over the years–for football games, homecomings, reunions. We used to rendezvous in Williamsburg every June at the Liz Claiborne Outlet. But our visits have never coincided with Freshman Move-In.

I’m prepared to see ghosts of ourselves on the sidewalk in front of Botetourt, dragging drying racks and speakers and armfuls of clothes up to the third floor. We make the short walk to the Caf, memories of a 19-meal plan, hand-punched cards and soft-serve ice cream every night, apples snuck into our backpacks, and the ever-present smell of slightly sour milk. We attended freshman mixers in DuPont and dances at William and Mary Hall, floors sticky with beer and littered with plastic cups. We signed the Honor Code. We registered for classes by filling out computer cards and standing in the longest lines we’d ever seen. We begged for overrides to closed sections. We got in. Or we didn’t.

Our room was homey, with matching twin spreads ordered from Sears and the tiniest cube wood-grain laminate refrigerator, posters stuck to our walls with putty, bulletin boards thumbtacked with photos from home, class schedules and syllabi. We dry-erased rude messages from the white board on our door, carefully wiping around ones we liked. Strains of “Hotel California” and Meatloaf pulsed through cinderblock walls, and the hall phone rang constantly and after midnight–mostly for Tracey, rarely for us. Our window fan, even on high, couldn’t mask the noise. There was no studying here. We went to Swem Library for quiet and, despite doing all homework assignments and attending every class, we both failed calculus–the first time we had ever failed anything greater than a quiz. We cried when we left at the end of that first semester, convinced that our GPAs would be so low we’d not be able to return after winter break. One of us might have to find a new roommate. Or we’d both flunk out and our room might be inhabited by two transfer students.

But we did return, and we roomed together for the next semester and the next three years, weathering a room lottery “bump” and living in the fraternity complex. We woke each other up. We argued about bunking our beds and messy rooms and late nights and boyfriends. We hoarded quarters for laundry. We lost our student IDs. We took labs and wrote papers typed first on a manual Royal, then an IBM Selectric. We went to pledge dances and cooked dinners for our dates and rode The Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens and mailed long letters to each other summers in between. Our families treated us to Sunday brunch at The Williamsburg Lodge. We were both intimidated and in awe of our professors and changed majors, finally declaring “English.” We read and read and read and wrote and wrote and wrote. Our bookshelves buckled under similar collections: Norton anthologies, Moby Dick, Dickens, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. We fell asleep discussing the symbolism of light and dark in The Scarlet Letter and what Professor Lavach might ask on our Human Growth and Development exam.

We opted to get teaching certificates and finished our career at William and Mary in education and student teaching at Yorktown Middle School. Our GPAs improved. We built resumes. We went “clubbing.” We were first in line when The Go Go’s opened for The Police at William and Mary Hall. We ordered graduation gowns and announcements. We rang the bell in the Wren Building and made the ceremonial senior walk across campus, having so much fun along the way snapping pictures of ourselves and our friends that we didn’t realize how much we were lagging behind. The first half of The Class of 1982 was gone. We got to The Hall only to realize we didn’t know which door to take to get inside. Someone guided us to the rest of the seniors.

We graduated.

We spent another year together as roommates in a Virginia Beach garden apartment, teaching high school and decorating with cheap houseplants and nourished by Kraft macaroni and cheese and school lunches.

We married significant others and moved and lost loved ones. Cared for our families and changed careers. Tailgated at Homecomings. Missed each other in between.

In email exchanges about our rendezvous next Friday, I pointed out that it was coinciding with Freshman Move-In, and Carolyn said, “I hope I don’t bawl my eyes out!” There is that risk. But I think, after a day of dragging drying racks and speakers and armfuls of clothes up to the second floor, it’s more likely that Carolyn and I will sit back and raise our glasses to a life-long friendship–one begun via a brief residence hall life questionnaire and a chance computer selection. Together, we survived noisy dorms, hall baths, beer-sticky floors, tough classes…all that freshman year dished out, and all the years in between. Except for calculus.

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B Dub

He was the first student we met on campus, summer 2010, just before Katie’s freshman year.  On a hot July weekday we drove to Williamsburg to pick up her computer, purchased from the College Apple Store, with great hope that it last four years under the umbrella of a W&M-based service agreement.  Over-achieving Tribe Family that we were, we would set up all the software and transfer her files before freshman move-in (never suspecting that it would crash the first week of class).

The Apple Store was a far cry from any we’d ever seen.  On the outer limits of the Campus Center, it was almost a closet, with a service desk and a few bubble packages of cords and cables hanging on the wall.  A scene from Steve Jobs’ nightmare.  I couldn’t fathom where the computers could actually be.  But a cheery young man who looked like he really knew A LOT about computers took our paperwork and disappeared.   He returned with the computer first, then the printer, then the iPod (which we didn’t want but came with the student “package”).  We angled toward the wall while he stacked our boxes in the middle of the room.  He topped us off with a free ream of paper and an iconic Apple frosted drawstring bag.

“Yep.  That’s it.  Receipt’s in the bag.  You’re good to go.”

Apple Man retreated behind the desk to answer the phone.

Katie and I stared slack-jawed at the pile, realizing that we were parked two buildings away and it was 90 degrees outside.

“Do you need some help with that?”

Someone behind us had somehow found floorspace.

“That’s a lot of boxes.  We could help you to your car.”  The offer came from a young man who seemed to be channeling Bob Marley or foreshadowing RGIII.  He had shoulder-length dreadlocks and a million dollar smile.  I forgot all about the boxes and beamed back.

“Hi.  Are you a student?”  I asked, noting his shiny knee-length athletic shorts and a tee shirt that said “University of B.W. Webb”.

“Yes, I am.”

“Where do you go?”  I had never heard of B.W. Webb University.

“I go here.”

I was confused.  “But where’s B.W. Webb?”

“I’m B.W.,” he said, dipping his head, “and this is my cousin.  I’m showing him around the College.”

“Oh, I see,” I said.  But I didn’t really.  “Why does your shirt say….”

Mom, it’s his shirt,” Katie stopped me.  “You know.”

“Oh, yeah, I know.”  I still didn’t, but I knew I was either too old to get it or I was on the verge of embarrassing my daughter.  So I changed the subject.

This guy was in good shape, dressed for a workout.  “You’re an athlete?”

“Yes, m’am, I am.”

There’s this game I play called “Guess the Athlete” where I try to match physique and movement with a particular sport.  Basketball players and wrestlers are the easiest to spot by height and breadth, respectively.  Golfers sort of lumber.  Swimmers’ v-shape–broad shoulders and tiny waist–gives them away.  Football players I sometimes confuse with wrestlers, though wrestlers are often softer spoken.

Puzzled by B.W.’s big shoulders and thin calves, and noting he was about my height, 5 foot ten, I guessed, “You run track?”

“No, m’am.  I play football.”

“Are you fast?”  I wasn’t giving up on the track idea.

“Yes, m’am.  I’m pretty fast.”

All these “m’ams” were melting my heart.  It’s a teacher-thing and a Southerner thing and I was both.  Sometimes a “m’am” can make you feel old, or fuddy or mad, if it’s sarcastic.  But B.W. was genuine.  His “m’ams” were perfectly executed.

We talked a little more–about football and season tickets and beating UVA in 2009.

“You saw that game?” B.W. asked, “You were there?”

“Yep, we were.  It was awesome.  Interceptions right and left.  We ran a fifty-yard touchdown.  Beat ’em in their own house. 26-14.  Remember, Katie?”

“Yeah, Virginia was pretty upset.  Emily gave me a hard time.”  Katie had sat on “the hill” with her Wahoo friends to watch the game.  She was the only one there in a William and Mary t-shirt.  We have a great photo of her that day with Cav Man.

B.W. smiled.  “Are you sure you all don’t need help getting that stuff to your car?”

“No.  Thanks.  We’re good.”  Sometimes I don’t know why I can’t take an offer of help.  Katie and I managed to get the boxes and bags to the car.  I forget just how.

But I couldn’t forget B.W. and took part of the ride home to champion him to Katie.

“Wasn’t he a nice guy?  You know, William and Mary has really great student-athletes.  At some colleges, a football player wouldn’t even acknowledge you.  B.W. offered to help.”

I was still bubbling on and on about him when we got home and told my husband Barry our experience.  He went onto the W&M Football website and looked up B.W.

“He’s a sophomore cornerback.  Comes from Warwick High School.  Newport News.”

“Yeah, yeah.  That’s him.  Tidewater.”

“You said you talked to him about the UVA game?”

“Yeah.  He didn’t say too much.  He was pretty excited that we had been there to see it.”

“Well, I guess so.  That was a pretty good game for him.  He ran that 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.  He was named CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year.”

I wrote Coach Laycock a letter about B.W.  Not because he was CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year and was integral to beating Virginia, but because he was such a stellar example of everything a William and Mary student should be:  polite, considerate, modest, talented, friendly, approachable.

I never got chance to tell B.W. what a tremendous impression he made.  But I told lots of other people.  And I cheered him on as he pursued his dream.

We cheered him on from the stands at Zable Stadium and the Universities of Virginia and Maryland.  We cheered him from our home and our iPhones during the NFL Combine.  We cheered last week when he was drafted by Dallas.  And we’ll be cheering  him this fall…even when his ‘Boy’s play the ‘Skins.  B.W., I hope you can hear us!

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Going. Going. Gone Greek.

I wish I had been in a sorority.  At my 30th reunion this October, it would be joyous to return to “the house” to see my “sisters”.  I would win the trifecta of homecoming refresher questions: “What was your major?”  “English.”  “Where’d you live freshman year?”  “Botetourt.”  “Were you in a sorority?“  Eeerrrrrkkkkkkk (insert record scratch here).

But in 1978, I wasn’t that interested.  I had more than plenty to do on campus.  Write for The Flat Hat.  Play in the band.  My freshman hall felt like a sorority.  There was plenty of Greek life for me:  fraternity parties.  I even managed to live in the fraternity complex (now known as “The Units”) sophomore year.  My roommate, Carolyn, got bumped in the lottery and when Sigma Nu lost its house in the complex, a co-ed dorm was formed:  Unit A.  We got a room.

When my daughter, Katie, decided to participate in sorority rush her freshman year, I was excited.  She would have an experience I wished I’d had.  But I was also nervous.  As a middle and high school teacher I had seen adolescence at its best and worst.  Girls could be mean.  Really mean.  When Katie was in sixth grade, the movie Mean Girls came out.  I took her and a friend to see it.  After the film was over, they turned to me and asked “High school isn’t really like that, is it?”  I couldn’t lie.  “Yeah.  Sometimes it is.”

Our high school experience had its moments.  There were cliques and bullying on site.  At home, with the emerging internet world of MySpace and chat rooms and instant messaging, meanness crept in through our computers and then our cell phones.  Parenting was tough, heartbreaking and constant.  It had been easier to bandage skinned knees and cut fingers.  Broken hearts and hurt feelings were sometimes invisible.

I bought a copy of Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman—the nonfiction book that was the inspiration for the Mean Girls movie.  I highlighted sections for Katie to read, introducing terms like “cliques” and “alpha”.   She identified most with the “gamma girl” concept.  Phew.

During the spring of Katie’s senior year in high school, we met Wiseman at a conference and, with college a few months away, I asked her thoughts on sororities.  She was quiet for a long moment then turned to Katie and said (paraphrased) “Never let anyone make you do anything you don’t want to do just for the sake of being part of a group.”

As I said, I was nervous about Katie’s decision to participate in sorority rush the fall of her freshman year.  It was just a few weeks into the semester.  Classes had barely started.  Freshman orientation had been intense.  There was a strong alliance to Dupont 3rd East.  Adjust for a while.  Rush later.  At the core of my mother heart and in the back of my parent brain was the concept of being “picked” by a group of girls.

It was a roller coaster—logistically and emotionally—that peaked with a pledge and ended in withdrawal with lots of discussion and phone calls in between.  Anne Arseneau, Director of Student Leadership Development in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, was a tremendous help and was extremely patient with a desperate mother.  She explained timelines and procedures.  She outlined options.  She put me in touch with a chapter advisor—a W&M graduate who called me and was so very helpful and caring that I wanted to join the chapter myself.   Ultimately, though, it was not my decision and Katie determined that she wasn’t ready to be in a sorority.  There was little satisfaction that I had known this from the very beginning.

The next fall brought another Rush.  By this time, Katie had friends in lots of sororities.  She had a “feel” for college and how a sorority would fit into her life.  She entered the Rush process with more experience and better settled as a sophomore.  She identified a couple of sororities she really liked.  Neither chose her for the next round.  (A year later my heart still hurts a little as I write that sentence.)

She regrouped and reconsidered.  A phone call came.

“I really feel comfortable at Delta Gamma.”

“Are you sure? You don’t have to join a sorority.  You have a circle of good friends, plenty of extra-curricular stuff….”  I trailed off as I struggled for a clearer vision.  Was I seeing her future?  Or my past?

“You know, Mom, I’ve decided I want to be in a sorority.  I’m not sure they’re all that different.  They all do kind of the same things.  They all have good altruistic causes.  And they’re all really just a bunch of girls.”

Within weeks, my only child had the big sister she’d always wanted.

When I visited campus for Homecoming last October, I asked Katie to stand with me to watch the parade.

“Can’t.  I’m watching it with my family, Mom. Bye!”

I stood alone on the sidewalk.

“Anne.”  It was Marcus, a friend from my freshman year.  Grateful for the reunion, but still stinging with abandonment, I blurted, “My daughter left me to go stand with her family.”

Marcus, father of two daughters, touched my arm and replied, “I totally understand.”

Suddenly, a chorus of voices, “Anne!  Anne!  ANNE Sharp!!!”

Across the street, a cluster of girls waved frantically, Katie in the center.  Marcus and I rushed between a gap in the parade and reached the other side.

“Mom, this is my Daisy Family.  This is Eliza, my Big.  And this is her Big,–my Big Big and this is Cousin Lydia and this is….”

After they each hugged me, I snapped pictures for our family album.


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Crash moves between Williamsburg and Northern Virginia in a travel coffee mug. “Crash” is the betta fish that our daughter, Katie, was given during sorority clue week.  Whether the gift was a pun on the campus fraternity “Beta” (casual for “Beta Theta Pi”), or a stab at having a pet in a dorm, or just pure sorority fun, I don’t know.

But I do know that driving Katie back to W&M after winter break, I was terrified that I would reach into the cup holder and mistake Crash for my cup of Starbucks Verona.

It was that trip back to campus that got me thinking about fishbowls.  My car is a bulbous onion of a car and is, in fact, so rounded that, for the first few weeks of owning it, I couldn’t pull it in and out of the garage without anxiety that the curved sides would scrape the doorway.

So it was in this bowl of a vehicle, with Crash at my elbow and Katie manning her iPod through the car radio that I felt I had been transplanted to a new aquarium.

I heard music I hadn’t heard before:  The Black Keys (whom I thought I had heard, but that was The Black Crowes), Bon Iver (I knew it meant “good winter” in French), Walk the Moon and Dr. Dog (seriously?) and Fitz and the Tantrums (whose 70’s groove sound took me back to Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Animals).  Much of the music I really liked but there were intervals of just plain noise that made me want to stop on I-95 and run screaming off an exit ramp.  Listening to those tracks, I wanted my old bowl back.  Springsteen.  Billy Joel.  Something soothing to the ears.  And then I recalled a look on my father’s face in 1977 while listening to Aerosmith.  Steven Tyler’s crooning “…dream on, dream on, dream on…Aah aah Aah aah AAAAH” morphs into pure shrieks of rock and roll bliss.  Dad gritted his teeth and winced.  When Katie cranked the volume on Walk the Moon’s “Next in Line” I just sucked it in.   I tried to swim in her bowl for awhile and was grateful to have shared this part of our daughter’s world.

And then I thought about where she is now in life, transplanted from the aquarium of our home into the transition bowls of college.  New dorms each year, back home for holidays.  Bowl after bowl after bowl.  Swimming, swimming…always toward the bigger bowl.  With me swimming beside her less and less and peering from the other side of the glass more and more.


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Why I Go to Family Weekend

It wasn’t freshman year this round.  Still, I went to Family Weekend.  Despite the fact that Katie came home to Northern Virginia on Friday for a concert.  Despite the fact that we got a late start to Williamsburg on Saturday, missing the receptions, the picnic, and the a cappella fest.  Pretty much all that was left of the weekend was the football game—where our tickets and Katie’s student ticket placed us on opposite sides of the stadium—and meals.  Was it worth the trip?  You bet.  And as I questioned our efforts, I came up with my three top reasons.  Here goes….

Reason #1:  I get to see our daughter.  Now that she is closer to leaving the nest, I want to look at her as much as possible.  I watched her as a baby, amazed that she came into the world.  Now I watch her in the same way, amazed that she has grown into a young woman. My friend Laura, whose daughter is also a sophomore at W&M, says, “Sometimes I just wrap my arms around my Lauren and just smell her.” It’s a mother thing.

I realize I can see Katie at home, but seeing her on campus, moving through her world, is different.  I can see the books for her classes, the posters on the wall of her room, meet her friends, meet her friends’ parents, and better witness the adult she is becoming.  At home we often lapse into the familiar parent/child roles.  On campus, we are the guests in her home.  It feels different, but it feels nice.

There are other weekends for campus visits, but Family Weekend is special.  The College really rolls out the red carpet for us, and I love that.  The two other times that parents are present en masse (other than hopefully, graduation)—move in and move out days—are tough ones.  Climbing stairs, lugging boxes, saying goodbyes.  I am delighted to visit when I don’t have to do a thing but just visit, be entertained, and eat.  There are not many times in the lives of parents that we get to be treated as guests and when the opportunity arises, I grab it.  So I grab Family Weekend.

Reason #2:  I get to see the new family.  Just as I get to see Katie in her campus home, I get to see the people who surround her.  Besides her roommates, the girls on her hall, and the friends we bump into around campus, I get to see and hear the adults who now guide her life.   The College puts its faculty, staff and programs up for view.  You can go to classes, concerts, participate in sporting events, ask questions of the administration.  What’s that buzzword these days…?  Transparency.  “Transparentscy”. (I don’t know what that might mean, but it was a fun sniglet to invent….)

When Katie was in elementary and secondary school, we went to Back-to-School Night so that we could meet her teachers, see her classroom and hear from the school leaders.  We never missed a single one.  I feel the same about Family Weekend.  Get in there.  See who is overseeing her education and, at this phase, her living arrangements.

As a bonus you get to experience the hearty welcome that makes William and Mary the true family that it is.  The College organizes the weekend events, but the students have the same agenda:  we are glad you are here.  As we traipsed around campus, we met groups of Katie’s friends whose first words were to Katie:  “Are these your parents??”  The tone behind the question was somewhere between what-a-cute-dog and please-introduce-me-to-this-celebrity-you-are-with.  They shook our hands and quickly engaged us in conversation.  It was great to meet them, great to see their enthusiasm and great to feel like a VIP.

And that leads me to the third reason I go to Family Weekend…

Reason #3:  I get to be Katie’s Mom again.  For the past 18 years, that was my major role.  Now, I am working on redefining myself…what do I want to be when I grow up?  It is good to dip back into role, though it, too, is different now.

And I think it is good to remind college kids that they do have families.  I’m not saying this to be mean.  It is a unique time in life, where they are surrounded mostly by people their exact age.  I remember being at college and rarely seeing old people, babies, or animals (other than squirrels, of course).  It was surreal.  Students at W&M can walk into Colonial Williamsburg and get a quick fix of families, retirees, dogs—many of which are wearing touristy tri-corner hats.  But my presence on campus places Katie in her “old” family.  And that’s a different context for her and her friends to absorb.  I am happy to serve as a reminder to not just Katie, but all the kids we encounter, that mom is still there, there are still adults in the world, and you are still accountable to your families.

It’s so much more glamorous for kids to go forth and save the world than it is to tend to business at home.

I have this old poster that addresses this more eloquently.  I got the poster from the W&M admissions office, and I know it’s old because it doesn’t reference Jon Stewart.  It is a color photograph of Crim Dell in the fall with a single quotation at the bottom:  “We have all drunk from wells we did not dig, and been warmed by fires we did not build.”


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Take Two

My thoughts on the last week are like the debris in our yard.  Scattered bits of bigger issues cover my mind’s landscape and, as I rake the branch tips of the tall oaks I am grateful did not fall on our house, I struggle to do the same in my brain.

Okay.  Metaphors don’t work either.

The bottom line is:  What WAS that?  That…that…that week?  What happened?

It began simply enough–returning our daughter Katie to W&M.  She would be in the dorm I lived in my junior year.  It felt familiar.  I knew the halls of Landrum.  I never lived IN THE ATTIC and I was in way better physical shape back then, but we got her moved in despite the 10 flights of stairs, a mediocre air-conditioner, a vacuum that spewed dirt out of the canister, a shortage of fans in Williamsburg, and my shattering of her roommate’s ceramic ice cream cone as I turned to leave the room and swung an empty duffle across the dresser.  Foreshadowing.  Little did I know….

Barry and I returned to Fairfax, missing Katie, but happy that she was settled in, back with her friends and looking forward to sophomore year.

And then the earthquake.

From our driveway, I heard the roar of what I thought was a jet, then decided was a bomb (it was a day that felt as clear and beautiful as 9/11 started out).  I watched our house waver and, convinced that it was coming down, pulled the dogs away from the garage.  In the aftermath of no cell coverage, T.V. reports of Pentagon and Capitol evacuations, I still thought an event had occurred in DC.  The house phone rang with my neighbor asking “What was that?”  A text from my husband Barry, confirmed it.  Earthquake.  We had, literally, been shaken from our core.

Shock waves went way beyond our community.  Katie felt the quake in the W&M Bookstore on DOG Street.  We checked in to compare aftershock experiences over the next few days.   Nerves settled and we geared down for life as usual.  Another life-experience under our collective belts.  Then we geared up again for Irene.

News from W&M Emergency Services alerted me to the campus evacuation.  Mixed feelings as a parent.  Katie was coming home.  She just got settled, with only two days of classes.  This is not in the script.  Flurries of phone calls and text messages.  Bring your computer.  Lock your door.  Do any of your friends need a place to stay?  Does everyone have rides?  Traffic will be awful….The Outer Banks are evacuating….Those poor freshmen…and their parents!

After several revised scenarios, Katie opted to weather the storm with friends at UVA.  Mixed feelings again.  Charlottesville was not in Irene’s direct path.  Odds of keeping safe and keeping power were better there than in Fairfax.  But I wanted Katie home.  I wanted our family together in the crisis.  Selfish, perhaps, but maternal emotions run deep.  Barry put it logically:  “Katie, we could use your help here—getting ready, cleaning up.”

It was painful, but we weathered the emotions and the hurricane.  Debris left over on both fronts.  But after a few days of living out of a suitcase and sharing a twin futon in a friend’s living room, Katie called to say she “felt like a hobo” and was coming home.

It wasn’t the homecoming I’d imagined.  No running into each other’s arms like in the movies.  We’d each weathered our individual storms and we were exhausted.  Katie and her roommate, Ruth, simply wanted to sleep.  They slept into the next afternoon, missing most of the glorious day that, ironically, comes in the wake of a hurricane.

I had less patience than usual.  Worn from worry over the unknown, tired from the physical preparation a hurricane involves, I craved normalcy.  I wanted to right our ship.  I had imagined our family reunion much differently.  Meals together, catching up at the kitchen table.  It all felt out of reach, or at least a little “off-kilter”.

Katie had transitioned to college life only to have it taken away.  She had been so ready to go back.  The first days were wonderful.  She got all the classes she wanted and her room was great.  The few days at UVA highlighted that loss.  At Virginia, it was business as usual.  The hurricane didn’t hit that campus.  In contrast, refugee status really sunk in.

The blows the College took haven’t really sunk in yet either.  We saw pictures online of the damage and know that some dorms are without power, still.  Katie and her friends know to expect that the front of their freshman dorm, DuPont, will look strange without the big trees.  They mourn the loss.  But no matter how the campus has changed, the College is still the same, and they are anxious to get back to “Their William and Mary”.  There’s only one, you know.


As they packed the car on this beautiful day, they mentioned the surreality of it all.  An out-of-state (and to that point, unknown) freshman joined them for the trip back to campus.  His state of Rhode Island was hit hard.  Ruth’s parents in Philadelphia will be without power for days and are keeping floodwaters out of their house by charging a sump pump with their car battery.  While some of us congratulate ourselves as having dodged the bullet, there are other communities suffering.

Compassion is one of those qualities we hope our children will possess.  This is a chance to practice it.  As students return to campus I hope they will be sensitive to those in their community who couldn’t go home, who are still struggling in Irene’s aftermath, who are worried about their families on other parts of the East Coast or who are just plain stressed because it was a horrific week.

One week to the day after classes started, classes at the College will start again.  “Take Two”, as they say in Hollywood.  I experienced a second take when I stood in the driveway this afternoon and waved goodbye to a carfull of William and Mary students, all delighted to be heading home.  The earth didn’t shake.  The skies didn’t pour down.  I call that a happy “beginning”…again.

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Moving Out

“Hey, Mom, I’ve got everything packed up and moved out into the hall.”

We took the handcart up the elevator to DuPont Third East.  And I could see down the hall a familiar pile of bins, comforter, jewelry boxes, clothes, the orange vacuum.  Last time I saw this pile it was on the brick walk in front of the dorm in August.  Flashbacks of freshman move-in.

It only took ten trips to the car to load up.  We wrangled the six-foot wire shelf into the back of our SUV, but couldn’t close either the tailgate or the hatch.  Houston, we have a problem.  I pictured Katie’s printer, hangers of clothes sliding out onto Richmond Road.  Like the scene in Apollo 11, where mission control brings the crew back home by brainstorming how to solve the capsule crisis with onboard items, I stretched a mattress pad across the back, wrapping the elastic corners around hangers, car parts, the culprit wire shelf.  Katie was only mildly horrified.

We pulled slowly away, hazard lights blinking.  Parked in front of DuPont was a moving van.

Off campus, cars piling up behind us, we led a motorcade down Monticello Avenue.

We talked about the end of the semester:  the impromptu rally in the Sunken Garden when Bin Laden was killed, a Holbein painting from Art History, psychology grades.

Wanting some perspective on the whole year, I asked, “Did anything surprise you about college?”

Katie didn’t answer and I was about to repeat my question.

“I didn’t expect to make such close friends.”

My eyes filled and I remembered the end of my freshman year.  I didn’t know it then, but I had already met the man who would be my husband.  My roommate would become my best friend for life as well as Katie’s godmother.

I glanced at my daughter, freshman year left behind, the rest of her life ahead.

We turned onto Richmond Road.  I navigated around some electric fan parts strewn across the lanes and smiled.

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Oh, no, William and Mary WILL Do

This time last year, we were heading to UVA.  By “we” I mean our only child, Katie.  And I mean “we” because the college search/apply/decide process is so intense that it honestly felt as if my husband and I were deciding our own college futures all over again.

When it really was our turn three decades ago, Barry and I chose William and Mary.  We met there.  In marching band.  Katie pretty much owes her being to W&M and its music program.  But there was no way she was going to join the Tribe.  It was the school of her parents.  She would go her own way, to paraphrase Fleetwood Mac.  Or, to directly quote Steely Dan:  “Oh, no, William and Mary won’t do.”

So she settled on UVA.  The University had said “yes”.  Vanderbilt said “maybe”.  Duke said “no”.  And the verdict was still out on W&M.  We waited for the old school notification to arrive in our mailbox.

It was a tough wait.  Other kids heard.  We tracked the responses by zip code and tried to figure out when we would be next.  For someone who had made up her mind not to attend W&M, Katie was certainly anxious.  The college emotions were compounded by wisdom teeth extraction.  (For those of you who consider timing dental surgery for your child during spring break of senior year, NOT a good idea, given that college letters coincide.)

On a beautiful spring afternoon, we heard the  “grrr” of the mailtruck.  Katie was on the deck, reading and I was halfway down the driveway when our mailman Bob pulled in.  He had been briefed that we were hoping for a packet and he dangled a nice fat envelope out the window.  He zoomed up to the house—a knight in a white postal vehicle–and handed W&M’s acceptance to Katie.  Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better delivery.

The contents were beautiful.  A folder of spring green and pale yellow that echoed the new grass and daffodils in our yard.  The words on the front were perfect:  “There’s only one William and Mary…and now it’s yours.”  The College not only belonged to the Classes of ’81 and ’82, but to The Class of 2014.  Had they written this just for us?  Inside, the info documents were neatly stacked, color coded and punctuated by the word “your”…your college, your calendar, your invitation, your costs, your website, you’re cool.  They floated above a quotation from Jon Stewart ’84.

Three hundred seventeen years old…and hip.

As Katie lingered through the packet, I could see a subtle change of attitude.  It was by far the coolest, most personal communication she had received from any college.  Great layout and design.  Off-center cipher.  Classic but fresh.  The juxtaposition of old and new summarized by the bottom line of Henry Broaddus’ letterhead:  “Chartered in 1693.”.

The folder took a prominent place on her desk.  We waited for Admitted Students’ Day April 17th.


It became “Admitted Students’ Day Weekend” for us.  We signed up to attend UVA’s program on Friday and then W&M’s on Saturday.

Being “on grounds” on a Friday at the University of Virginia is a pretty cool experience.  Factor in a beautiful spring day, an admissions dean and her dog as a welcome committee, and Monticello gazing down on you—pretty impressive.  We opened with lots of panels and Q&A sessions, then kids split off to attend classes and parents were on our own.  Barry and I wandered the bookstores, awed by the magnitude of the t-shirt offerings and car sticker options.  Then we saw this:

We found them this way.  We didn’t do it.  I swear.

Our visit to The University ended with naps on the lawn under a brilliant sky and dreams in blue and orange.  It was a good day.  Not a great day, but a good one.  We packed up and headed to Williamsburg.  We pulled in, got out of the car and Katie said to me, “Mom…will you be really disappointed if I go to UVA?”

“No, honey, but keep an open mind.  Give W&M its chance tomorrow.”


Tomorrow came and…it began with rain. A thousand kids and parents navigated slippery bricks and poured in to William andMary Hall.  Ushered in to the a cappella sounds of The Gentlemen of The College, Barry and I found seats and stuffed our dripping umbrellas under them. Katie scampered off to sit with a high school friend who waved her down.

The cheerleaders were there.  And the griffin.  And President Reveley.  And the entire admissions team plus student interviewers. Videos.  Music.  We did audience participation surveys.  We stood up if we were early admittance/legacy/alumni.  We looked at each other.  We waved.  We laughed.  We cheered.  In that one-hour orientation, we felt what it felt like to be part of the William and Mary Family.  After singing the Alma Mater and President Reveley’s benediction of “We want you here,”  we exited to the fist-pumping beat of The Black Eyed Peas.  The kids, of course, knew the lyrics by heart:  “I gotta feeling…Tonight’s gonna be a good night….”

Outside, the rain was done and the walkways were lined with W&M students in sunny yellow tees with the caption on the back “Ask me”.

We found our way to the Mason School of Business and were awed by the entrance that felt more like a home than an academic building.  We were more awed by the study abroad presentations and a panel of students who each had accomplished so very much in so few years.

Lunch in the Sunken Gardens was a picnic and we sat on the steps and looked down onto all the clubs and activities The College had to offer:  vocal groups, pep band, Greek life, botany club, newspaper, yearbook, Jane Austen dancers, Queen’s Guard, ROTC.  Tables and posters and enthusiastic co-eds were everywhere.

We lost Katie there.  She scampered off again, bumping into acquaintances, meeting new people.  Text messages were all we had of her for the rest of the afternoon:  “I’m going to check out the Literary & Cultural Studies program.”  “I’m at Sadler Center now.”  “I just saw Bonnie.”  “Talked with a really neat professor one-on-one.” “Hey, Ro and I are going to get a cup of coffee.”

We reconnected at a football scrimmage at Zable Stadium where she arrived with some friends and sat a section away.  It was a great day.  Not a good day—a GREAT day.

On the way home, in the car, the confession came:  “Mom.  Dad.  This is going to be a harder decision than I thought.”

As an alum of The College, I have never been so proud of my school.  I wanted to jump up and down and scream about what a wonderful job W&M did in rolling out the welcome mat.   I wanted to cry—the day was so full of heart and pride and caring.  I wanted to ask, “Is there even a choice here?  I mean….you got the PRESIDENT of The College.  You got the griffin!”

Instead, we talked about choosing a school with community and choosing a school with competition.  We talked about size and tone and following a curriculum that is set and then about the options of designing your own course of study.   We talked about choosing a new home that helps you figure you out.

As parents need to do (especially ones who are Classes of ’81 and ’82), we left her to think through things on her own.  And we waited.

When May 1 arrived and time came for Katie to sign on the dotted line, she joined The Tribe.

Link to William & Mary Facebook

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