Dear Family Member of a New Undergraduate Student,
We don’t know each other well as of now, but I’m counting on that to change. I work as a director of a department (called New Student and Family Programs) that leads the creation of programs and services that directly impact and support you and your student. I work with faculty to ensure what your student is learning outside of the classroom finds dynamic ways to inform what they are learning inside of the classroom. In other words, my job is to help you and your student find their path through their educational experience. I’ve got a door that’s open for them to talk about grades, breakups, leadership, social justice, time management, and Netflix. I collaborate with colleagues to create events and programs that motivate your student to think about the world beyond what they know and, often times, what they think they know. Serious, fun, hardships and laughter -- it’s a big deal to me to be able to do this job. It’s a privilege and an honor, really.
As you may have noticed, I refer to your child, your sibling, your spouse, your grandchild, or your chosen family member as “student.” I owe it to them -- and you -- to remind them of the decision they’ve made: the choice to engage an environment predicated on a commitment to limitless learning.
It is not lost on me how complex these circumstances may be for you -- your student is embarking on a journey they aren’t quite sure how to tackle just yet with outcomes that are … well, beyond orientation and graduation, … unknown. They may be leaving your home for the first time, pursuing another advanced degree, or expanding their life choices based on a collection of life experiences. I won’t claim to know the inner workings of your story with your student, but I can respect those details exist and may be front and center for you as we near the end of the summer months.
I’ll admit, this letter is a tough one for me to write. I have much to say and I’m not quite sure how to say it all. There are times when I’m afraid you’ll misunderstand my advice or presume I don’t understand the importance of the role you play in your student’s life. While both of those fears may be true at any given moment, I will do my best to show up and be brave with you no matter what. I will never tell you how to champion your student through the next four years of their life but I will definitely be there, alongside your student, guiding, listening, encouraging, and empowering to change the world in some positive, purposeful way. I hope you’ll give me a chance to be a part of how you end up doing such important work with them, too.
In full transparency, meeting you and your student will change my life. This may sound overwhelming, dare I say dramatic, but it’s true. I tell you with confidence new student orientation never fails to prove me right about this -- every single time. I bet if you asked anyone on a college campus who does a job similar to mine the same question, they would tell you their own version of the same sentiment.
I care deeply for your student. I’ve spent the last ten years of my professional life in deep admiration for the students I’ve worked with and for. You’re sending them off now because you believe in their ability to take that growth a few steps further. I’m so grateful to you for trusting them.
You’ve sacrificed, you’ve cherished, you’ve labored, spent various forms of life currency to prepare them for what’s to come. Now they have to do the heavy lifting, more than they ever have before. You will want to protect them from challenges, shield them failures, step in front of hard questions they are being asked, assure their path is paved with obstacles for which they are prepared. But that’s not why they’re here, is it?
Know when challenges arise for both you and your student -- and they will -- I’ll be here for you. I mean it. I promise we will work through the struggles, however I can’t guarantee frustration or anger won’t be a part of the work. When you begin to let feelings take hold, please try to remember I’m a person, too. I’m on the other end of the line doing my best to find a way through my feelings, too. This is not a plea for you to be inauthentic, but more of a call to compassion from someone who wants the best for your student.
My colleagues and I have been preparing for months, some for at least a year, for that first greeting -- that exchange of names at your student’s residence hall, to nurture that connection with your student resulting from sharing the same hometown or home country, bracing for that special second they have where the realness of what they are about to do sets in. We’re ready for it. If you find yourself thinking you might not be ready or your student might not be ready, I’m a phone call or an email away.