Everything happens so quickly when you are a parent. “They” tell you, when your kids are small, “cherish every moment! This goes by so quickly! You’ll never get these years back!” Yeah, yeah, you say while you are covered in drool and spit-up or your kid is knocking outside the bathroom door while you are . . . well, let’s just say you are inside . . .
Then that day arrives and you see your child in all their graduation regalia and it finally hits. This is it—you really did watch 18 years go by so quickly—and what wouldn’t you give to have five minutes of those small years back again?
Then comes college orientation. For us, this happened the week after high school graduation. Barely time to breathe and my kids (I have twin daughters) went from high-school graduates, king of the hill—to college freshmen.
Luckily for us, our orientation experience was one of excitement, anticipation and only a few bumps here and there. I think it was much harder on me than it was on them. As a parent, I tried to prepare them well for this life transition. They’ve been both doing their own laundry since they were pre-teens (okay, I hate doing laundry, so that was a given), both can balance a checkbook and know how credit cards work. They can make a mean ramen noodle bowl, and one daughter has mastered the art of the perfect grilled cheese. But guess what? Nobody really prepared ME. So here I was, not really ready for a day and a half of college orientation, along with a roomful of other parents who were putting on that brave face and smiling shyly at one another across the room while standing in the registration lines.
My daughters chose to attend the University of Wyoming. I have one that will be a music major, the other is undeclared. Both are excited to attend UW for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the study abroad opportunities (we heard a LOT about this during orientation), brand new Performing Arts Center (music major!) and the scholarships that were awarded to them. But another strong pull for UW was the friendliness of the campus community. Everywhere we go there is a smiling face, someone offering to help and the overwhelming sense that here, on this campus, there is a family for these students. That means a lot to us.
It didn’t hurt that the day started off as one of those glorious summer days that Laramie, Wyoming is famous for—a perfect 70 degrees, cloudless blue skies and the scent of lilacs in the air. We first checked in at Washakie center and all the orientation leaders, actual enrolled UW students, were ready to greet us with bright yellow-gold shirts on. Signs were strategically placed so there was no question where we were supposed to be (one of my daughter’s concerns—what if I get lost?—was thus immediately appeased), and downloading the app with a QR code to our phones helped with scheduling. I am not kidding, these orientation leaders REALLY want to help and REALLY love to talk about the university and why they chose to come here. It seems for every question we put to them, they had an answer that would somehow connect their situation to the ones my daughters were asking questions about. Wondering about study abroad? One leader just got back from Argentina on a study abroad. Questions about dorm life? Another was an RA her sophomore year and was eager to talk about it. If my kids had a question, they had a ready answer.
After checking into the dorm where they would stay overnight, and working through a minor blip when our door key didn’t work, we headed off for lunch at Washakie dining center. We were again greeted by smiling faces who explained the different food choices, and who graciously put up with my joke asking where the prime-rib carving station was—(they politely mentioned I was the fifth parent to come through the line making that joke—ok, ok I get it)—when my daughter was greeted by name by a girl she had not met in person, but who recognized her from the Facebook UW Class of 2020 group. These two excitedly chatted like long lost friends, even though they had just met in person, and discovered that both were twins and both would be registering in the same college. Score! Instant friend. We both left lunch pretty satisfied.
Next step was group meetings at the Gateway Center. Again, the clear, easy to follow signs and the terrific weather made for a pleasant walk across the rear of campus to this impressive new building. We took the opportunity to chat with a few other families making their way over, one from Texas, the other from Colorado. Both families said their kids chose UW because of the outdoor opportunities of the surrounding area such as mountain biking and hiking. Once gathered inside, the welcome was enthusiastic and informative, covering subjects such as college success (GO TO CLASS, READ THE SYLLABUS), money matters (how to load cash onto the student ID card), registration (how to work the online class registration system) and another important tip for new students: always check your uwyo.edu email. By law it’s the only way that the school can communicate with you. This was a new one for me. It was heartening that all this advice came directly from the school authorities—the Dean of Students, the Vice President of Student Affairs—this had a much greater impact than if it just came from dear old mom over and over again. My kids actually took notes!
After that it was time to break apart for the day. The kids went with the orientation leaders, and parents stayed behind to talk about parent stuff: how not to be a helicopter parent, the stages of homesickness, how the dorms work and an invitation to join Cowboy Parents, a group set up just for us moms and dads. We finished with a parent reception complete with snacks and a return of some of the support staff we had met earlier: the Director of Admissions, VP of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and even the IT guy. I chatted for a while with my new Texas friends and left for the evening, pleased that neither of my daughters had sent a panicked text in the meantime, which I took to be a good sign.
In the morning there was still no panic text. In fact, no text at all. Good sign, I hoped. Parents were invited to meet their kids at a resource fair in the Wyoming Union which conveniently has a Starbucks coffee on site! Score! Another blurry-eyed mom and I chatted while getting coffee and she also remarked that her child must be having a good time because again; no text.
The cheerful orientation leaders were there again to greet us with music and directions to the booths where I ran into my kids, bags stuffed with swag, none the worse for wear and eager to take me to their favorite stations they had already visited: specifically the SLCE (Service, Leadership and Community Engagement) table, something called Media 7200, business fraternity, campus ministry and of course, study abroad. I had no idea my kids were so excited to be involved on campus but it was refreshing to see. One big theme, over and over from the orientation leaders was: GET INVOLVED. I guess my kids got the message.
We gathered again in the Wyoming Union, parents and kids together, to talk about more “housekeeping” topics: parking, IT, preparing for life after college (so glad they encourage them to think about this NOW), and then kids broke away for advising. Surprisingly, this was the moment that caused my kids the most anxiety—not staying overnight in the dorms as I would have thought—and the orientation leaders stressed that this was the time for kids to manage on their own. No parents allowed. I’ll admit, this was also tough for me.
Parents stuck around to hear from the Dean of Students again, campus police and counseling centers as well as student health. Several parents in the audience had great questions: what about fire safety? (there are former firefighters on staff), what about self-defense classes? (UW police offers self-defense classes, as well as some campus organizations). All good questions, and I was satisfied with the answers. Another tough topic that was addressed was alcohol awareness. All kids are required to take an online class before coming to school to teach them about their responsibilities and choices regarding alcohol consumption. I was VERY pleased to see that. A lot has changed since I went to college.
Post-advising we reunited with our students and finished with a rousing rendition of the Cowboy Joe Song. That hadn’t changed since I went to college, and I even remembered most of the words.
- Make friends! –your kids will be following your example. Say hi to the other parents in line, introduce yourself to them. Ask where they are from and ask the kids the age -old question: what is your major? It starts the conversation.
- Stay hydrated! Laramie sits at a high altitude of 7220’ and if you are coming from a lower altitude, dehydration can set in quickly and make everyone cranky. Also pack sunscreen. Laramie is like three inches from the sun.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Everyone there is eager and willing to help. Just refrain from making stupid jokes in the lunch line. For your kids’ sakes as well as your own. :)
- Take all the brochures and information that is offered as take-aways. You won’t have time to process it all while you are there, and it makes for great dinner-table conversation later.
- Keep a list of resources for your kids. The UW police, counseling center, student health, etc. — everyone that hands you a card, take it, write their contact info down in one place and hand this list to your kids. That way if they get in a jam once they are on campus, they know who to contact.
- Stay positive! There is a lot of information to process and it’s a scary and overwhelming time for both you and them. But if you are smiling and having a good time, chances are your kids will too.
About the author: Lisa Sherrodd is an artist and musician and mom of 18–year-old twin daughters, her only children, who are all too-quickly ready to leave the nest. She is looking forward to changing their rooms into a recording and art studio someday, but maybe not right away. :)