In the next few weeks, I’ll be traveling with my older son on a couple final college visits before he makes the big decision on where he wants to go.
It’s impossible to get into the mind of a 17-year-old. I know his decision might weigh on something as silly as a hot girl he sees in the cafeteria or a dorky tour guide.
But while the college of the future looms for my son, I recently made a trip back to my alma mater, West Virginia University. I hadn’t been on the campus for more than 20 years, but I wanted to visit one of my former professors, who turned 90 this month.
Now I know you really can’t go home again. Yes, the school had changed, but I think I’ve changed even more.
I drove out to Morgantown with a good friend and former classmate. We had lunch in one of our favorite hangouts, which was loud and packed with students. We visited our old professor, who still looked much the same. And we walked around the campus, trying to remember how things used to look and notice how things had changed.
To me, the school looked larger. The dorms where I had lived and the buildings where I had studied seemed huge and the hills I had walked seemed steeper. This is not at all what I had expected. I was a 17-year-old country girl when I went to college, but I had never felt that the school seemed that large. How could I return to that school as a middle-aged woman and suddenly feel that the school was too big and overwhelming?
The only answer I have is that I was looking at my old school, not as a teenager who saw the possibilities, but as a mother who saw the pitfalls. I can now imagine how my own parents must have felt when they dropped me off at the school on the first day of my freshman year.
Which brings me back to visiting colleges with my son. I think it is best if I stick to helping with the driving and keeping my mouth shut. I am not going to be 17 again and neither is he.
Liz Atwood is a former Baltimore Sun features editor who teaches journalism at Hood College. She is the mother of two sons, ages 12 and 17.