The single best thing a college can do to get the right kids to sign up for its program is what Oberlin College is doing for my kid right now. It’s not much, really, just lining up this year’s freshmen with interested juniors-in-high school.
I just left my 16-year-old at the Carnegie building in a small town even a New Yorker would call ‘charming and sophisticated’ with a long-haired, leather-clad acid-rocker named “Zack.” My son had his sleeping bag under one arm and an overnight bag in the other.
“Do you need your saxophone?” I asked as a departing, somewhat nervous gesture. Zack looked at my son and then at me.
He didn’t know what to say.
“That’s just my mom,” my kid said, “being herself.”
I sensed the two had more serious things to talk about. I sensed it was time for me to go.
I looked at another parent as I descended the stairs, leaving the two kids, just two years apart, the one in tight leather pants on the far side of the freedom barrier, my son on the other in conventional khakis and short hair, in conversation.
I said to a 50-something man descending the stairs nearby, “this place takes nerd-dom to a whole new level.”
He didn’t respond.
I guess among the weird, being on the lower end of the scale, we become weirdest.
I returned to worrying about my innocent child.
“Do you need your unicycle?” I texted, knowing he had envisioned touring campus on his latest mode of exercise.
But my son was on his own. And perhaps already questioning things.
“IDK” was his answer.
“Well, I’m outta here,” I texted back, and I headed toward my hotel.
* * *
The next text I got indicated my child was attending a chamber orchestra concert.
I had read that Oberlin hosts 1000 concerts per year, but couldn’t believe it.
Then my other son, in college in another state, ratted on his brother.
“They are going to act Jewish so they can get into the Jewish co-op where they are serving really good Indian food tonight.”
Suddenly I flashed back to a moment in college, standing at the front door of a fraternity where we knew bathtubs were filled with kegs of beer. “We’re here to see Dave,” my friend and I lied, and magically the door to free beer opened.
My next thought?
What can I do to get my kid’s SAT scores up so he can get in to this magic place?
* * *
It’s later now.
I picked up my kid, who claims not to have participated in the vodka shots and smoking that occurred in the dorm room where he stayed last night. In his defense, he did not seem to have a hangover.
Instead, he was philosophical. This is the perfect way for the college to let the kids know how great this place is … without having to tell the parents what is really going down.
I thought back on the other parents and on my own college misbehavior.
The other parents all seemed so straight, their kids so perfect, with ribbons in their hair … the innocent questions at the parent info session. Was I the only one with a memory?
I had waited until the end of the info session to ask my question of the admissions guy. He had said that Oberlin does not have a reputation as a party school. I couldn’t let that statement stand in the dry air. The room was emptying, I got the guy by himself.
“This place is known as a stoner school,” I said, “Everyone smokes pot. My son is worried about that. He is pretty straight.”
Suddenly I realized five or six other parents were listening in. They also, strangely, had amazingly straight kids who did not want to go to schools where pot is smoked.
The poor admissions guy shrugged his shoulders in a nervous gesture. I immediately felt sorry for him.
But he had a good answer.
He said that although a certain amount ‘of that’ goes on, he said he honestly didn’t think students put pressure on others to participate.
I was floored when my son said those precise words the next morning. As though he had been there when the admissions guy had said it.
“There’s no peer pressure, mom,” he said. They just said I shouldn’t try to tell other people not to smoke or drink or whatever.
I think he just learned half of what I learned in college.