WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER growing up in Colorado, I always dreamed of spending my higher education years in the Northeast. I wanted something different for my college experience, after graduating from a very large public high school in Denver. Although I doubt I would ever be accepted under today’s standards, I discovered Dartmouth College, a small liberal arts school nestled in the granite hills of New Hampshire. Everything about the school was captivating. I played hockey and rugby, majored in chemistry, and learned how to cope with the elements. My college even had several proud “doctor-type” alumni, including C. Everett Koop, Meredith Grey of TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, and Dr. Seuss with his green eggs and ham. I made many lifelong friends.
This past summer, when it came time for college visits, I wanted my oldest daughter, Eloise, to see this in a college and be hooked. We landed in Boston and drove west. We traveled along quant, rural roads in our little rental car. We drove many a country mile and visited several charming college towns: “Dad, can a town really only have one stoplight? Where is Starbucks?” Our travels had brought us just east of Dartmouth when a huge moose ambled in front of our car. I swerved, just barely staying on the road. Eloise’s hysteria over the gigantic creature ceased by the time we reached Hanover.
After we checked into the Hanover Inn, I crossed the street and sat on the ground next to Dartmouth’s “college green.” Eloise called home on her cell phone. “I don’t think I have ever seen Dad so happy. But it’s too quiet here!” After the obligatory tour and information session we left town and headed east. She hit the car radio’s search button. Round and round went the stations. Nothing. We had reached the limits of the radio world. It is known as the White Mountains.
In the end we had a wonderful trip. Five actionpacked days of just my daughter and me—but I had resigned myself to Eloise probably not applying to Dartmouth. I surmised it was going to be the ick factor: her dad, after all, drank his first beer there. I switched to hoping for Washington and Lee. It was a bit like my alma mater, much cheaper and closer to home. I was thrilled when she sent away for an application. Silly dad. I should have known she had no intention of spending even a minute at a college in any mountains; green, white, or blue—no matter how good the school. She professed to be profoundly torn. Maybe, but I think that she went along for this particular journey—she refers to it as the “Moose Trip”—mostly for me.
Eloise was recently accepted to the college of her choice in Manhattan, NYC. In high school Eloise didn’t play traditional sports. She danced—a very good ballet dancer. Hundreds of hours of pas de deux, fourette en tourant, Tchaikovsky, calluses on her toes and sewing the straps on her dance shoes. She enjoys shopping and the bustle of big cities, and is not particularly fond of eggs or ham. I suspect she will soon be an expert on subways, restaurants, and theater etiquette. She will have renowned professors and her share of famous alumni along with new exciting classmates in the city. I do know I’ve never seen her so happy in anticipation.
Here is my lesson about our journey. The college search wasn’t about me. Take your teenagers where they want to go, not where you want them to go. And if you do tour colleges in the hills, bring some CDs or at least an iPod. Her kid brother likes ham and eggs...