I just returned from my last Parents Weekend at Florida State University. My daughter is a senior and will graduate next spring. The FSU campus is beautiful, doubly so when the football team wins at home in front of 80,000 fans dressed in garnet and gold. We were lucky Saturday to beat Boston College. But we won while the Florida Gators were busy losing their third straight, so the beer was cold and plentiful in Tallahassee.
Each fall Parents Weekend is a pretty big deal on and around the campus. Everywhere you look there are handpainted signs and trinket giveaways welcoming moms and dads. Some spell it Parent’s Weekend, others Parents’ Weekend, and the rest Parents Weekend. Regardless how the kids spelled it, we all got the message: temporary trespassing by the graying and aged was a welcome intrusion. At least for a couple days.
Parents Weekend is a brief baton pass from young to old and parents arrive with various engagement strategies. Some try to look and act young, hoping to be seen as relevant. In real life, family life, they are; but in public life they are not. Most parents realize this. I knew my place and tried to stay in it. Although I talked smack to my daughter at the starting line of the Saturday morning 5K foot race. I lasted fifty yards before dropping back into the old man shuffle, resigned to a resounding defeat. I got drilled but didn’t mind. At my age there’s a whole lot of creaky taxes to be paid when exchanging messages between the mind and the feet.
From Friday afternoon through Saturday night the large campus swarmed with smiling parents anxious to meet friends, sorority sisters, and frat brothers. Most of this is done long distance, via finger pointing, head nods, and selective disclosure. Kids anchor down into survival mode, minimizing risk by minimizing introductions.
At social mixers, the football game, that early morning fun run, and the spectacular student-run FSU Flying Circus (the nation’s finest) I kept looking around, eyeing interactions between parents and children — life’s truest love. A quote from the great Muhammad Ali, one of my generation’s truly spectacular people, kept coming to mind. It is my favorite quote of Ali’s, who at his peak was one of the planet’s greatest social orators, the John Lennon of black athletes.
“A man who looks at life at fifty the same he did at twenty,” Muhammad said, “has wasted thirty years.”
Never is this more true than Parents Weekend on a college campus. Kids arrive as timid freshmen, scared and uncertain. If they don’t run home after that first year they stick around, take root, learn to flourish, and all too soon will leave as young adults. Some look forward to that, to graduation and that shaky first step onto the tightrope of adult life. Others are in no hurry, one hundred kegs away from worrying about such intrusive future inconvenience.
A friend of mine wrote to me last week that she would love to trade middle age for a second run through college, provided she could attend young and pretty and knowing everything she’s learned in the decades since her first go-round. Hers is an interesting question: If you could do it again, would you? I was such a romantic baboon this is a thought I shudder to ponder.
Nearly a decade ago when texting began supplanting email as a shorthanded means of instant communication, I wrote and warned of its obvious, ominous ramifications. Cars would crash, ankles would break (from walking off unseen curbs), and the language — always under assault — would face accelerated attack.
My guess is that Florida State is not alone in its descriptive confusion and apostrophe usage. I think you can pretty much pick a school, any school, and find youthful exuberance trumping punctuation.
But Parents Weekend is the one weekend of the year I’ll put every kid in America on scholarship. It’s the event that matters, and the thought that counts. If the kids are as happy to see the parents as the parents are to see the kids, we need more of these events regardless what you call it or how you choose to spell it.
As my daughter enters the homestretch toward a mortar board and new decisions and I rued my final Parents Weekend, one of my close friends arrived for his first. He was on campus to share the weekend with his son, a freshman. Two days into the college experience, the lad stumbled onto a keg party that resulted in a bit of unexpected social confusion. Welcome, I told my pal, to the unending drama of the true college experience.
For those of us who blinked and went from attending college to creating the new generation that’s taken our place, it all flies by too quickly. Much too quickly.
Regardless how we spell it, all of us will miss those days.
Dave Stuart saysOctober 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm
Too good as usual. Love it and will start following your blog. Also too true is the speed in which we get replaced in time by our capable youngsters.
Keep up the great work and hope to see you over holidays.