Looking Forward While Thinking Back: Alumni Parents

When our son was a junior in high school and we embarked upon the Great College Search, he informed us he would like to study computational linguistics (yes- we had to look up that one, too) and go to a campus with rolling hills north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi. We poured over websites, hunting down schools with that elusive major (hint- there are not very many) and his geographical criteria. We did the Midwest road trip: ten colleges, four states, six days.  And just like the guidebooks tell you to do, he narrowed it down to four solid matches, none of which were UMass.

Sure, he knew about UMass.  My brother-in-law, husband and I are all proud alums.  We have maintained friendships with people from college and growing up in Hingham, certainly our son knows people who have attended UMass. He had been on campus growing up. It has an amazing computer science program as well as a very highly regarded linguistics major.  It even has rolling hills. We just hadn’t really spent much time talking about it; it wasn’t a part of his mental framework. He thought he knew what he wanted, he felt like it was a solid plan, and he was the one going to school, so we just figured he was all set.  Until he wasn’t all set.

The summer before his senior year in high school, our son did an internship with a tech company in Sweden.  It was a life-changing, incredible experience.  He lived in an apartment with a friend, cooked his own meals, did his own laundry, and lived independently for the first time in his life. And he missed us- more than any of us expected. So in September of his senior year, he began the college search again, this time focusing on schools within a few hours drive time.  This time we talked about UMass not in the abstract, but as a solid option.

UMass was no longer just the place where his parents had gone to school, but a place that could be “the one.”  Visiting campus on a balmy December day, we walked around, showed him the restaurants and parts of town we used to go to, reminisced about all the fun we had. And just like the part in the movie where the guy realizes the girl-next-door is whom he wants to be with, Jacob realized that UMass was where he wanted to go. The admissions wait was excruciating, but when he received his acceptance letter, we were all elated.

It’s a little bit different to be on campus when your child is the student and you are the parent.  Part of you still feels like that twenty year-old college student.  Some things haven’t changed at all (I’m looking at you, Northeast residence halls), while other things are totally different (award-winning dining- not when we were there!).  On the other hand, you also feel pretty old.  Sitting in New Students Orientation as a parent, I looked around the room and thought to myself, “Do I really look this old?” followed shortly by “Oh, I am this old.” The campus still has the same vibe it had twenty-more-than-I-care-to-admit years ago. There is still that sense of community and the search for social justice.

I’m certain his college experience will be different from mine and my husband’s; however, our hope is that the important lessons we learned from our professors, our friends, and the UMass community at large will be lessons he also learns.  As a student at UMass, one of the biggest lessons I learned was the importance of considering multiple points of view.  The exposure to different cultures and values has affected my life in so many positive ways. Those are certainly lessons I hope he absorbs.

During my time at UMass, I established a strong sense of self and my priorities in my life fell into place. Because college is a time of growth and self-actualization wherever your child goes, it is especially exciting to have a common ground (literally and figuratively) and share a bond when your child attends your alma mater. Having our son at UMass represents an intersection of our past, present and future. In his growth, we see a reflection of our own identities. We look forward to his four years with the same optimism that we felt as freshmen.  And we hope that he will graduate as a well-rounded adult with confidence and with fond memories of great professors, terrific friends, and good times – similar to our memories!

Check out the UMass Amherst Alumni Association page to learn how to stay connected after graduation.

Submitted by Melissa Mitchell Goldman, UMass alumnae class of 1992, wife of Chuck Goldman, class of 1992, and proud parent of a rising sophomore computer science and linguistics double major!