How many times had I counted down the days until sweet freedom would be mine? Going away to college meant doing precisely what I wanted when I wanted — sans parental monitoring. I could not wait! So why was my heart heavy as I waved goodbye from the curb of my twin-bedded dorm room? Independence and all its glories were mine…ALL MINE.
I suppose somewhere in the recesses of a still maturing mind, my brain knew this was just the beginning. Family life as I knew it would never be the same again. “Home” from here on out would only be a place to visit during holidays and summer breaks. I was on my own. Life’s hurdles awaited my every stumble.
That first month on campus passed in a blinding whirlwind of new faces and overwhelming schedules, where potential failure loomed. After all, we were curtly informed at orientation: “Look to your left, look to your right, one of those students will flunk out by semester’s end.” One third of the freshman class gone in four-month’s time? No pressure — just had to tweak a workable balance between academic and social.
There were moments, that only thirty years later I will admit, I wanted to go home so badly it hurt. Sitting on that lush green quad, I would try to quell my homesickness. All the while wondering how the family I couldn’t wait to leave suddenly seemed so warm and compassionate in comparison to the cold, calculating strangers in this cut-throat institution. But I did not hail from a line of quitters.
I came to love that central Illinois campus surrounded by its cornfields, ear-tagged cattle with strange funnels sticking out of their sides, and chicken coops (courtesy of the Ag department). Inhale…hold breath…hold breath…hold breath…and exhale (whoooooosh). We had the largest Greek system in the country that supported an impressive range of philanthropic causes. We still had Chief Illiniwek as our mascot. And Kam’s served a budget-friendly Long Island Iced Tea that lasted the entire duration of happy hour. My experiences, both positive and challenging, made me more confident and adventurous — albeit a bit more cynical than the innocent soul who’d arrived four years earlier.
Each of us has to break free from the nest and ascend into the clouds. Fears of operating in uncharted skies can be debilitating. Shoot for the moon anyway. Even the smallest daily motion powers upward momentum, each effort building upon the other until one magical day we marvel at the glow of starlight splashing across our faces…