Four years ago we dropped off our young, urban, British child in the rolling hills of Vermont. We didn’t know what he would make of the countryside, the notorious college, or his peers – it could have been a disaster.
But on the first day he discovered his roommate shared his first initial, his upbringing as an expat in the UK, and an eerie match of parental job titles.
Within a few weeks our kid was in the middle of a robust social group, in bands, in a relationship: in other words thriving, after a lifetime hating school. And he brought the experience back to share with us.
Every winter the college has a mandatory field work term, and our son would arrive with five or six kids for the duration. During the holidays a rotating assortment of undergraduates arrived, piling into all the rooms, occupying beds and sofas and sleeping on the floor when there was no space left.
They sat at my kitchen table and told me about their friends and lovers, heart break and horror. They played the piano in the parlor, and held band practices in the dining room. They helped me throw huge parties, and I helped them drag gear to underground shows. When I came home from the hospital the undergraduates gathered in a circle around my sickbed, eating ice cream and laughing. They listened to my hectic stories after my mother died.
Over four years we saw the whole gamut from failing grades to graduate school applications. We were entertained by sociopathy, sarcasm, and several actual operas. We watched teenagers grow into adults.
Now we’re in Vermont to watch the graduation, celebrate, say goodbye. The weekend was poignant, awkward, hilarious. We talked to people we’ll never see again, and met a few we will probably know for decades. Oh and the roommate with the eerie coincidences? We finally met the other parents, truly delightful and also somehow familiar people. Within moments we figured out that we lived within a few blocks of each other in Portland when the boys were babies.
I assured my son that he will know many of these people for the rest of his life, that endings are always beginnings. This is true, but does not make the experience less poignant. Even the kids who hated the school (or dropped out) understand how special the place is. Good or bad, they have a unique connection just by virtue of living in this place.
It has been an honor to know these people, and I am excited to see what they do next.