It's that time of year: admissions decisions are being finalized, scholarship applications are due, and students are trying to decide where they’ll attend college in the fall. They get lots of advice: sound counsel that really does help and trivial platitudes that don’t do anyone any good.
Here are a few of the most common statements I've heard.
Unfortunately, students also hear things that are more myth than truth and are neither exceptionally helpful nor entirely true. Here are just a few of those.
1. HOPEFULLY FALSE: “This will be the best four years of your life.”
Really? It wasn’t the best four years of my life and I had a great collegiate experience. But best years of my life? Not even close. Frankly, there’s not much that compares to my childhood summers: homemade ice cream under the carport; watermelon seed spitting contests; roller skating, bike riding, playing in my playhouse. Those were some great years. But then, the last four years have been good too. And the four before that. Life is full of great years, so at the very least, you’re overstating.
But there’s a bigger problem with this statement. Expectation. Expectation can just flat slaughter reality. See, no matter how good college is for you, I promise you it won’t be perfect. You’ll have some life-changing experiences, but some of those you would just as soon have lived without. College can be wonderful. It can be difficult. It can be wonderfully difficult and difficultly wonderful. But don’t set students up to approach the next four years as the highlight of life. That’s just not true. And if it is, that’s sad.
2. SOMEWHAT FALSE: “You’ll meet the best friends of your life while you’re in college.”
For me, this is somewhat true, but I’ve also developed friends since graduating college who are more like family than friends to me. Before Facebook, I’d kept in touch with three or four of my closest friends from college. Now I’ve reconnected with many I’d lost contact with and I’m grateful for that. But I’m also in touch with childhood friends and friends I’ve made since the late 80’s. You can make friends whenever and wherever you are. My brother-in-law’s closest friends are high school buddies. My sister’s besties are co-teachers. So yes, hopefully college students will meet and keep new friends. But I for one am grateful that I didn’t stop making friends when I left college.
3. POSSIBLY FALSE: "You’ll be fine."
This may be one of the most dangerous things we say to students. Here’s the deal: way too many college students are anything but fine. Depression and anxiety spike during these stressful years. Suicide on the college campus is consistently on the rise. If students go into college thinking everyone else is fine and they are the only one struggling, they can feel isolated and resist mental health resources because of the fear of being different from the masses. A lot of college students find these years difficult and confusing and lonely. So adults, instead of “You’ll be fine,” how about we say, “I’ll always be here for you,” and mean it. And students: it’s okay if you aren’t okay. I promise you are not the only one. Reach out to people you trust and look into collegiate mental health services. Sometimes, we all need a little help to be "fine."
4. FALSE: “It doesn’t matter where you go.”
First of all, this is flippant and dismissive. If you are trying to make a decision that affects your future, it is not helpful for someone to say the equivalent of “Stop whining and get on with it! Your concerns are invalid.”
Secondly, it does matter, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. It’s not because of the college's reputation or status; the quality of the school and its majors are important, but the truth is you can find quality at just about in college or university. There are exceptions, but mostly academic experience is shaped by personal investment.
But it does matter where you go to college. It matters because of the connections you will make both personally and professionally. How many people do you know who are married to someone they met in college? A lot, right? And that best friend thing—most college graduates have made dear friends along the way, friends who have shaped their lives in profound ways.
That’s not all though. During the next four years and beyond, your professors and advisors will share more than academic knowledge with you. They will also pass along information about job openings and career opportunities; they will be your references for graduate school or employment. It matters that you choose a college where the faculty appeals to you.
Indeed, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you go in terms of national ranking; but it totally matters that you choose a college that feels right to you.
So good luck students! And no matter what other advice you get, remember this:
Choosing a college matters; YOU matter more.
This post was first published March 9, 2016.
The 2018 graduation season has begun! I love getting the announcements from young adults who have followed dreams and reached new heights. So far, I've attended one ceremony and plan to go to at least two more. I'll make eye contact with my graduate, standing on tiptoe and making a fuss; I'll read all the names; I'll pay attention. When it's done, I'll weave through the masses, give quick hugs and high-fives, and then I'll make my way to my car to wait for the traffic to clear. And it will be worth it. In this post, a re-run from 2017, I explain why.
The 2017 graduation season has been an eventful one for the Lawrimore family and friends. First to turn the tassel this year was our soon-to-be daughter-in-law who received her undergrad degree from UNC. As for high school, we have two nephews, one niece, and our daughter’s boyfriend graduating.
It’s a big year. And I won’t make it to all of the ceremonies (two happen at the same time on the same day), but I’ll do my best to get to most. Those graduates who I don’t get to see in person will know I wanted to be a part of their day. They will know I am not casually dismissing this moment in their lives.
Now, I love graduation ceremonies. I don’t even mind bad ones. Wait. That’s not exactly true. There is one exception: a 2016 graduation ceremony I attended at a “Christian” school was so offensive that it required every iota of self-restraint I possess to keep from opening up a great big can of Aunt Aileen all up in that place. To be fair, I was already ticked off at the school because I felt they had done an awful job of educating my beloved nephew. As a whole, they missed the blessing of his uniqueness, his gifts, his potential. (If I’m completely honest, I’d concede that a good bit of Aunt Aileen had already been spilled in these judgmental halls that, by their infinite ineptitude and unmerciful demeanor, had in essence been using the name of God in vain. But I digress.) Anyway, the graduation for less than 40 students lasted for over two hours. Not much fun for Angry Aileen.
Still, I’m glad I went. In fact, I would do it all again to be there when my nephew graduated. Totally, completely worth it.
In general, though, I love the pomp and circumstance of graduation. I love the academic regalia of the faculty, the students in caps and gowns, the formal presentations. But even if I couldn’t stand that stuff, I would attend graduations. You see, I believe that it is positively irrelevant whether or not I enjoy the graduation ceremony. On that day, at that moment, it’s not about me; it’s about the graduates.
Let’s say I’m attending a graduation and I don’t like the speaker. Or the music. Or even the institution where the ceremony is held. Maybe it’s the experience that is unpleasant. The seats are uncomfortable; it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet; or the ceremony is way too long and if someone had just thought this through, for goodness sakes, we could have been done a long time ago.
It doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters: it matters that I’m there. And it matters that you’re there too.
By attending graduation, you are saying a number of things. First, you are telling your beloved that you care about transitions. High school graduation is the first major transition for these kids since they left home for kindergarten. It’s a big, big deal. By being there at the moment of transition, you are saying to the student, “You are not making this change alone. You, graduate, are not being thrown out of school, into a black hole of uncertainty all by yourself. I am right here with you.”
Secondly, you are telling the graduate that you will be there for endings, not just beginnings. You will be saying to them, “You know how you are concerned that the friendships you’ve made over these last years will end? Know this: your relationship with me? It is forever. I will still be your sister, brother, uncle, aunt. I will still be your mother, your mentor, your lifelong friend. I know it feels like everything familiar is ending. But I’m not. I’m here. I will always be here.”
Thirdly, you are saying, “Your celebrations are my celebrations. When you succeed, I delight.” Sure, these graduates will have other—probably (hopefully) more significant—accomplishments over the course of their lives. Celebrate those too. But graduation offers a unique opportunity to celebrate the completion of an extended task. Finishing that which we have begun is an important habit to develop and maintain. By attending graduation, you are saying, “Finishing things matters. This is a big deal.”
Finally, you are saying to your graduate that inconvenience will never be your primary concern when it comes to milestone moments in that student’s life. So what if you had to drive all night to get there? Who cares if the experience isn’t exactly pleasant? You are there to witness three things: the processional, the graduate’s walk across the stage, and the recessional. Everything else is just extra.
It’s true: I love graduations. But I love the graduates more. So I’ll be there in the audience, watching for my graduate. And when I make eye contact with my beloved, I hope the message is clear: “You matter to me and I will always be here for you. Always.”
Wait, did I read that right? No. Hold on. Seriously? Has it already been four years?
That can't be because I believe it was yesterday, or the day before, that I wrote about the connection between potty training and college.
As parenting goes, I have always dreaded the day when I uttered these words: This is worse than potty training. Since my kids are pretty close in age, I was potty training at least one of them for three straight years. I'm being self-aware not self-deprecating when I tell you: I'm not good at teaching toddlers the tricks of the toilet. I'm not. (And please don't leave me any tips here because really, I've heard them all and besides, they pretty well have it down by now.) Read more here.
Not long before that, I wrote about when Trellace was a baby and people suffered from the misunderstanding that I considered having an infant a burden. They had a compulsion to comfort me.
“It'll get better,” the stranger said, punctuating his insightful comment with that know-it-all belly laugh that indicated he knew exactly zilch, “in about 18 years!” His laugh crescendoed, then faded into the distance as he walked away shaking his head, still snickering at his own joke. Read more here.
On the contrary, it always felt to me as if time was slipping away; that my babies were growing up too fast. What a blessing it was for me to learn the difference between chronos time and kairos time.
. . . “Where has the time gone? I don't know, but I think I’m looking for it in the wrong zone. In Greek, there are two words for time. There’s Chronos—time that is measured, ya know, chronologically. And then there is Kairos—time that is measured by experiences. Chronos dissolves into seconds, days, years. Kairos, though . . . Kairos remains. (Read more here.)
In chronos time, it's been four years. In kairos? The blink of an eye. But however you measure it, it's time for Trellace's university commencement. I wrote this post back in 2012, just before she left for college. It's déjà vu all over again.
These days, in my world of parenting, I’m experiencing some serious déjà vu. See, when Trellace was about to start kindergarten (ya know, yesterday), good-hearted folk, attempting to be encouraging, offered familiar platitudes. Things like, “Oh she’s ready!” or “She’ll do great,” or “She’ll be fine! Don’t worry.” Now she’s going away to college, and those tired expressions have been roused for the occasion. (Read more here.)
Sunrise, sunset . . . I don't remember growing older. When did they? (Fiddler on the Roof)
"Be who you needed when you were younger." This meme, trending in social media, offers a great reminder to those of us who may have forgotten the struggles of our younger years; it's also a great suggestion for how to minister across generations.
In the community and in church, I hear so many negative comments about kids, teens, and young adults. "They require technology to have fun!" "They won't commit." "They lack direction." But really, we've all been there haven't we?
When I was in elementary school in the seventies, a certain doll was all the rage. My sister and I each got one for Christmas: she got Crissy, the brunette, and I got Velvet, the blonde. Crissy and Velvet had these magic belly buttons that you pushed to grow their hair; to make it short again, you turned a knob on their backs. With this new-fangled 20th century technology, and their fashionable outfits, they were magnificent! Today the latest technology is certainly advanced from Crissy and Velvet--and even Teddy Ruxpin--for that matter, but kids are very much the same. They are attracted to the newest (and most effectively marketed) toys, just like you and I were.
What I needed as a child was someone who was interested in the things that thrilled me; someone who took the time to get to know and understand me. (Oh how I loved explaining Velvet's fancy features to befuddled adults!) Today's children need that too. Sure, their toys baffle us, but so what? The more confused we are, the more delighted the kids will be to enlighten us.
As a teenager, I was often flummoxed by relationships, high school struggles, and post-graduation options. By grace, loving adults invested in my life. They asked questions, listened to my answers, and sometimes offered advice. Teens from this decade--just like teens from every other time--may not realize how much they long for your company. But think back. You remember how you felt when an adult (other than your profoundly stupid parents) took an interest in you, right? Today's kids need to be valued and appreciated just as much as you did.
Then there's our college and young adult years, heaven help us. Are you proud of every choice you made during your twenties? Yeah, me neither. The good news is our college choices weren't tweeted out to the world as a permanent digital record of adolescent angst. The better news is it's really quite easy to find out what today's young people are doing. Not too long ago, I was talking to a teenage friend and mentioned some picture I'd seen of him. He was shocked and accused me, hands on hips, "You've been stalking me, haven't you?" Equally surprised that he hadn't realized how accessible his antics were, I responded, "Umm, yeah. Daily." Then I talked to him about choices, direction, plans for the future. I needed that kind of intervention when I was his age; I needed real adult guidance. By that time, my parents had grown out of most of the pathetic dorkiness they'd suffered from during my teens, but I still needed other mentors. Young adults today do too.
And when it comes to the church, to ministry, "Be the person you needed when you were younger," has even greater import. Think back. Did you need someone to give you a "Get out of Hell free card," or did you need someone to tell you about the depth of God's love? Did you need people to give you all the answers, or did you really just need a safe place to ask the questions? Did you only need friends your age who were struggling with the same issues of faith as you? Or did you value the companionship of those whose faith had sustained them through a lifetime of trials?
If we are the Body of Christ, it really isn't enough for campus ministers, youth directors, and children's Sunday school leaders to reach out to specific age groups. It's not enough because to be the Body, we need the tendons of relationship to connect young muscle to wise bones. Thus strengthened, the Body of Christ becomes better equipped to build the Kingdom of God. And that . . . that is church.
*This piece was first published on October 19, by Baptist News Global. I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.
After all, Tracie is less than 200 points shy of a perfect 2400 on her SAT; she’s made the highest possible score on all five AP Exams she’s taken; she has a solid GPA; she has studied abroad; and she’s even started her own small business. No one thought Tracie would be denied admission anywhere.
Yet, she’s heard from all four schools to which she applied. She was admitted to one: her last choice, her safety school. She’s wait-listed at one and denied—flat-out rejected—by the other two. Crazy.
Caveat: All along, I’ve thought Tracie should choose the state school closer to her home. It is an excellent university and I think she will thrive there. And anyway, I never have cared for those exclusive schools with the skinny little admission rates.
Still, I cannot believe she did not get into the schools she dreamt of attending. It makes no sense. But then, the fact is the admissions process is not fair. It’s just not. You can do everything nearly perfectly, as Tracie did, and still not make the cut. (You can also do very little right and get admitted, but that’s another blog post.) At many schools, when it comes to the final decision, it is almost random selection.
So students (and parents) dealing with college admissions disappointments, listen up. I have something to say (I do go on). You may feel free to read these aloud. Preferably while looking in a mirror.
*Name changed for privacy.
Please welcome back to the blog my son Baker Lawrimore. Below is a piece he wrote for a class at UNCG. I thought you might enjoy his thoughts on how music and culture merge to create lessons greater than either could teach alone.
Back in Asheville, I was at church every Sunday and Wednesday. At First Baptist
Church of Asheville, music is an integral part of education, worship, and missions.
Church music is hard to do well because most groups only meet once, maybe twice a
week. I learned that in order to make church music work, rehearsals have to be
incredibly focused. By being in that church so many years, I experienced how a
director has to be well prepared so that rehearsal runs smoothly.
A.C. Reynolds High School loves the arts. It pursues musical excellence in the
classroom, on the stage, and on the field. Marching band requires a strict attendance
policy. When marchers are missing, rehearsal becomes much less effective. You can’t
make the show happen without everyone attending rehearsals, learning the music,
and learning the drill. By being in marching band, I saw how dedication of learners
orients a group towards excellence.
In Asheville, music is everywhere. It is a fundamental part of that weird Ashevillian
culture. Everyday you’ll hear an array of musical styles from the plethora of
musicians roaming the streets. Experiencing this exciting musical atmosphere
makes music a part of life. It’s always there, but it’s not something we take for
granted. The energy and passion that the city puts into its music moves its people to
have that energy too. I see this energy in teachers in the community, and in all of
I learned a lot in these different cultures. Church taught me that directors must be
prepared. School taught me that music requires dedication from all students. And,
Asheville taught me that music is passion. That’s not to say that in church, learners
weren’t dedicated, or that in school, teachers weren’t passionate. To an extent, all
three of these cultures influenced those beliefs I have about teaching and learning.
There is a sense of tradition, or even eternity, felt in these cultures. I know that
music will always be a part of those communities. It will never leave. When music
instruction is at its best, there is a deep connection between the musicians and with
the music. Without the sense of tradition and relationship, there is little meaning to
what we do as musicians. The dedication, passion, and preparation that those
communities have all help create that sense of meaning and make teaching and
learning music a vital part of life.
Please welcome guest blogger Grace Schmidt. Since 2008 or so, I've been working with high school seniors and some college students, tutoring them in creative writing with a focus on college admissions and scholarship essays. This post is Grace's Common Application essay responding to this prompt:
"Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?"
I thought she did such a great job on it that I wanted to share it with you as an example of an essay with a fresh approach that's entertaining and well-done. Grace generously gave me her permission to post it; enjoy!
“Come on, come on, come on! There’s nobody in line for the Teacups, Mommy!” Charlie and I raced to the best ride in all of Magic Kingdom as our parents walked behind us, pushing Martin in the stroller. Smiling, the cast member welcomed us aboard as Charlie and I got into a lavender cup. We waited for Daddy to join us (he always spins the teacup the fastest). Once the ride began spinning faster, I felt the pressure of that giant ice cream sundae I ate all by myself at the Plaza Restaurant on Main Street earlier.
To the seven-year-old palate, the food at Disney just might be the best in the world. All-you-can-eat buffets filled with macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and ice cream. Those amazing fries from Casey’s Corner. The pastries and confections from the Main Street Bakery. Plus all the wonderful foods at the Epcot World Showcase. The World Showcase features pavilions representing eleven countries from around the world, where people can listen to cultural music, see performances, watch CircleVision 360-degree movies about the country, and of course, eat. There’s the sweet School Bread with sliced almonds and custard on the top from the Norway pavilion; from Japan, the icy and sweet kakigori; and from Canada the ketchup chips that taste like the world’s best batch of french fries with ketchup.
The Biergarten Restaurant in Epcot’s Germany is one of my favorite places to eat. There, you can eat your fill from the buffet, then Polka with other guests center-stage. It’s like a massive dance party. Of course, the parks are always throwing parties for their guests. For example, last May my family drove all the way down to Orlando for the weekend when we heard Magic Kingdom was having a twenty-four hour celebration day. We woke up at four in the morning, got ready, and headed from our hotel to the Magic Kingdom for the six o’clock opening. We rode all the rides in the park that day, and even fit in two twenty-minute naps in the Hall of Presidents and the Carousel of Progress. If not for those two naps, my mom and I might not have had the energy to dance as much as we did at the two a.m. party in front of Cinderella's Castle.
We are not normally the type to let loose in public, but something about being with thousands of strangers and being stupid-tired inspired us to dance like no one was watching. We danced, Veronica Mars style, boxing the air, to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” We sang, full volume, along with Frozen’s “Let it Go” and “Love is an Open Door.” And if we had not been so hungry, we could have danced all night! Instead, we went for ice cream--my favorite: the giant sundae I always got when I was a kid
And it was good, too--until I began tasting it for the second time as the Teacups whirled round and round (some things never change). But then, the music stopped and the Teacups slowed, and like magic, I’m all better. Indeed, at Walt Disney World, I am free to be myself: past, present and future. After all, it is the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
Grace is a senior at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville. Upon graduation in 2015, she plans to attend a state university in North Carolina. Grace is a little bit fond of the Wonderful World of Disney. Just a little bit.
They travelled by twos and threes. Straight hair, falling below their waists; layered tank tops; short shorts on tanned legs; rainbow sandals. College girls here for the weekend, speaking in private jokes and co-ed jargon. I encountered the first two in the refrigerated section; they were trying to determine how many cinnamon rolls they would need for tomorrow’s breakfast. Another couple joined them—“14 should do it”—and they turned towards the soft drinks, meeting the other three near the beer aisle. Their shared cart contained a number of six-packs of classy bottled brews along with chips, snacks, and of course the necessary cinnamon rolls.
“Hey, guys?” She got her friends’ attention as she put a 24 pack of something like Pabst Blue Ribbon in the cart. “Look,” she gestured toward the 50 or so cans or bottles of beer they were about to purchase. She frowned, appearing troubled and perplexed.
“We still don’t have enough bong beer for everybody else.”
I'm guessing they won't be studying for finals.
Think students. Think.
My kids know him as “That Guy Who Held His Plate Upright In The Cafeteria.” When we were in college, my friend David and I made lots of memories; but it’s difficult—at least in the retelling—to top the plate story.
Here’s what happened. Back in those days, colleges didn’t have food courts like they do today. Choices were . . . well . . . limited. (Usually limited to “take it” or “leave it.”) That particular day, the entrée available was chicken chow mien; we took it. And we left it untouched on our plates during the hour or so we spent chatting in the crowded dining hall.
Now, it just so happened that the chicken chow mien prepared in the 1980’s Marshbanks Cafeteria had a certain gelatinous quality, adhesive even. So David, upon discovering his meal had coagulated, forming what appeared to be a permanent bond with its serving dish, tilted the thing—millimeter by millimeter—until he held it vertical, perpendicular to the table. We nodded our approval, but David clearly needed more.
As we looked on, still processing the view of Buies Creek cuisine epoxied to ceramic, David pushed back from the table, stood, and quietly held the plate on display. As I recall it took only seconds for him to garner the attention of the entire room. Curious laughter morphed into appreciative applause. Bowing with a flourish, David gently returned the plate to its intended position, and took his seat.
And that is the story of “The Time David Held His Plate Upright In The Cafeteria.”
Today, seeing each other for the first time in 25 years, we recalled some of the great times we had as Campbell University co-eds. The memories brought laughter and not a little overdue embarrassment. But our visit was so much more than a nostalgic reliving of the past; today I was reminded that some friendships are just timeless. And for that, I am truly grateful.
Published August 8, 2012
These days, in my world of parenting, I’m experiencing some serious déjà vu. See, when Trellace was about to start kindergarten (ya know, yesterday), good-hearted folk, attempting to be encouraging, offered familiar platitudes. Things like, “Oh she’s ready!” or “She’ll do great,” or “She’ll be fine! Don’t worry.” Now she’s going away to college, and those tired expressions have been roused for the occasion.
People mean well. They do. But what these helpful soothsayers don’t seem to realize is that I know all this. Really, I know better than anyone how perfect Georgetown University is for my daughter, how great she will do there, how ready she is. I am not at all worried about her.
And frankly, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—I want more than for my children to grow up. I have friends whose children never got to grow up. Growing up is a part of life, and I want my children to have full, productive, grown-up lives.
Consequently, I want to let go. I’m excited for Trellace as she enters this new stage. I am delighted that she gets to go to go to her dream college, to live in her favorite city, and to study in a rich, challenging environment. Also, I want the world to experience how great my girl is, how much she has to offer. I don’t want to hide her under a bushel when her light is so bright. I want her to shine, in DC and in the world.
It’s just . . . well . . . even though I want to let go it’s really, really hard.
See I want the change; I just can’t bear it. I want her to grow up, to leave home, to become all God intends her to be. And I can’t bear it.
I can’t bear the idea that I won’t see her for months at a time. I can’t bear being out of touch. I just can’t bear it.
It will never be the same. Sure, we will be home base, but we won’t be home. Not really. This will be the place she visits between semesters, on vacation, before she starts a new job. It will never be the same. Never.
And I’m okay with that. I am.
It’s just . . . I will miss this. I will really, really miss this.
I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4