The College Professor Becomes the College Parent
Thomas G. Plante
I have newfound respect, sympathy, and solidarity for the parents of my college students during recent months, especially parents who live outside of driving distance from our campus. Why after 20 years of teaching at SCU do I have this newly discovered appreciation for our students’ parents? It is because I now have a son (Zach) who just went to college.
I knew this time would come when he was just a newborn. I’ve thought about this eventual goodbye a lot over the years. I’ve made a habit of stopping whatever I was doing and watching him as he went off to school (from preschool to high school) each day. Dropping him off at school has been a sacred daily ritual. I’d tell him to have a good day, to learn things, to be nice to everyone and so forth while watching him run, skip, walk, or bike out of sight with a backpack on his back that seemed to get smaller as he grew bigger. Then I’d say a daily prayer asking God to keep him safe and take care of him so that we can do the ritual again tomorrow.
I hoped that he would attend Santa Clara. I tried to maximize the chances that he would join me here during his college years. After all, faculty, and staff get a generous tuition discount and he felt very connected to the University after so many frequent visits. He was a bat boy for the baseball team for four years when he was in elementary school. He’s used to having SCU faculty and staff around the dinner table. I’d joke that he could major in any academic discipline he wanted to since I had spies in all departments!
When all was said and done, he decided to go to Dartmouth. He’s a track star and was recruited to a lot of great schools, but decided that Dartmouth was the right place academically and athletically. And now I have to get out of his way, let him go, and this time drop him off at the airport to go to his next school in the chain.
I take my role as a teacher and mentor with renewed conviction now.
I take my role as a teacher and mentor with renewed conviction now. I want parents to know that as a professor I’ll do what I can do to watch over their kids while they are here. I’ll encourage them, try to help them make good academic, career, and life decisions, and remind them to call home now and then.
We begin to say goodbye to our children very early in life each time they head off to school and other activities. While we want to hold them close for as long as we can we know that we have to lovingly get out of their way and let them go with our blessings, and a prayer to boot. I am more aware than ever before that each of my college students at Santa Clara has parents at home wondering and sometimes worrying about them. I hope they’ll feel assured that they are in good hands here and that many people, including me, are watching and watching closely. It’s the SCU way.