Thursday, May 31, 2012

for the graduate: going home.

Dear Ashley,

Right before my high school graduation, I had a Bible class teacher who gave one of those standard "things you need to know before you graduate" speeches. As I recall, it was a good, powerful, practical lesson. Unfortunately, time and memory take their toll on things like that, and I can only remember one of the points he made. I remember it because I didn't like it.

He told me I could never go home again.

At the time, those words hurt. Like you, I was excited to graduate, anxious to start the next adventure.

But also like you, I loved my family. I liked my home, my life. I had a good relationship with my parents. I was friends with my brother. The thought of graduating and leaving was painful and difficult enough without being told I could never come back.

Here's what I know he meant: After graduation, things change. Not overnight, really. Instead, it's this gradual, slow process, until one day you wake up and realize you're not homesick anymore. One day you realize that you've grown up, and you're not the same person who walked across that stage so many moons ago.

I wish, though, that teacher had remembered to tell me how good change can be. How leaving home is scary and hard and lonely at first, but, if you're lucky, you gain another family. I have friends now who befriended me when I was all alone and nervous, and you know what? We've got this unbelievable bond forever. We don't see each other a lot these days, but when we do, it's magic. That magic, I think, comes from befriending people who were in the exact same spot I was. 

You know how relieved you were that at your baccalaureate service, everyone was on the same page? No matter how popular a student was or how long they'd been going to school there, everyone was nervous. No one knew what they were doing. 

That's what being a freshman in college is like. Nobody's cool anymore. (Not at first, anyway.) The playing field is leveled, and if people embrace that vulnerability, friendships happen. Some of my very best, lifelong friends I met in my first two or three weeks away from home. Others came with time, but that handful that knew me at the very beginning? They're special. We knew each other when things were tough, when tears were shed, when college seemed like this big, scary thing we'd never be able to survive. 

Change turned out to be so good for me, and I know it will be good for you too. 

That long ago Bible class teacher? I think what he meant to say is that once you go away to college (whether you literally leave town or stay right where you are) is that things change. Your relationship with your parents and your sister will be different. 

But I firmly believe it changes for the better. 

Sure, there are rough patches. You'll push and pull for independence, and that's not always going to look pretty or kind. 

Once those moments are overcome, though, you'll be rewarded with this unbelievable friendship with your parents.

I don't buy into the exact phrasing of that Sunday school lesson. I just don't believe, in a family like ours, you can't go home again. I have run into the arms of my parents and my brother many times since high school graduation, and each time I have been welcomed and loved and comforted in ways only they know how to do. Our family is amazingly kind and generous and welcoming, and that doesn't run out just because we grow up and leave home.

Whether you leave Tallahassee or stay in town, it won't matter. Your relationships at home will change, a little at first, and a lot when it's all said and done.

But I cannot tell you enough how awesome it will look when the dust settles. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the dinner table conversations I've shared with my parents (and yours!) since becoming a grown-up. I cannot tell you the happiness I felt every time I came home from college, even if by the end of the vacation I was ready (in some shape and form, despite my first few weeks of homesickness) to head back to my friends and to school.

If you're brave enough to become an adult, brave enough to start becoming your own person no matter where you are, home will look a little different, sure.

But you know what? It will always be home.

You and I, I think, are a little different from the rest of the world. A lot of people I knew and loved were so desperately ready to leave home when they graduated. They felt stuck, like a ball and chain was keeping them in Tallahassee, in their old bedrooms.

I never felt that way. I never thought I'd stay in Tallahassee for school, but I also was never rebellious or desperate to leave.

Instead, the day my parents dropped me off at college felt like a punch in the gut. They tell stories of how they and Chet sobbed the whole way home, and while that makes me sad, I'm also a little jealous, because they got to sob together.

I was alone. In Alabama.

It was scary, and I was homesick.

Some of your friends will immediately embrace the freedom that high school graduation brings. I'm not sure I was one of them, not entirely. I was sad to leave home, and if you choose to leave, you will be too.

But what I wish someone had told me, what I wish I knew then, was that the coming home is fantastic. The hugs and the kisses and the excitement and the looks on those faces? It's worth it.

Coming home again isn't always easy, but I wanted you to know it is possible. Things will change and evolve and your parents will start to look like some awesome combination of friend and mentor and yet still, miraculously, they will be Mom and Dad.

You can go home again. And it will be better and more comforting than you can even begin to imagine.


chet said...

whoah whoah whoah. who said anything about me "crying?" that can't be right.

Melissa said...

Completely agree, Annie - was quite like my experience at Freed; Ash will be just fine...and so will mom, dad and C...

Anonymous said...


Mel said...

YES, this exactly. I can vouch that this is all true for small-ish towns in Georgia as well. Beautifully written! Wish someone had written me something similar my first day at school.