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Susan Shinn: Leaving the nest

By Susan Shinn

For the Salisbury Post

My dear friend Rose Post always used to write a column this time of year, mentioning children who were entering school for the first time. On Aug. 6, 2002, she wrote about my son, who was a kindergartner at China Grove Elementary.

I thought about that column this weekend, and I actually found it Sunday morning when I was cleaning up Andrew’s room. He still has it, tucked away in a memory box.

On Saturday, I dropped him off at college.

Imagine photographer Wayne Hinshaw’s surprise when we met up in Stanback Plaza early that morning.

“What are you doing here?” he wanted to know.

Then I gestured at my T-shirt, which read, “Catawba College Mom.”

“Oh!” Wayne said.

So Andrew started college this weekend, as did Austin and Logan, Frankie, Ryan, Cara, and Garrett and Sarah (twins!) and Max …

And how did this happen?

It was 31 years ago this summer that my friends and I set off for college. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Oh gosh, I sound like my momma.

My momma called me Saturday morning before we left. There was a hawk sitting on my car, she said.

Andrew said, “Momma, we can’t leave. There’s a hawk on your car.”

I tried not to read too much into it, and went on with last-minute packing, making sure we had everything. (Of course, “we” didn’t. More on that later).

Shortly after 8, we made the long trip around the corner to Catawba. It took all of 10 minutes. When we pulled up in front of Andrew’s dorm, a smiling line of teens in yellow T-shirts was waiting for us — the Alphas — and promptly unloaded the vehicle.

Turns out Andrew was in a basement room, with only five other guys on the hall. I met them, and they were all extremely polite — and quiet. That part, I’m sure, will change as they get to know one another. I met Becky, the female resident assistant on Andrew’s floor. I told her that when Andrew lived at the School of Science and Math during junior and senior year of high school, we had Snack and Chat once a week. It was a time the guys got together to eat food parents sent. Becky assured me she would not turn down food for the hall. I told her I’d be in touch.

After lunch, President Brien Lewis welcomed us in an opening assembly. He said all the right things, told all the right funny stories, quoted Yoda — everything you’d expect a college president to do. We heard from Provost Michael Bitzer and Dean Smith, the dean of students. (It took me a while to realize that wasn’t actually his name but his title. Hey, I’m a Carolina girl so that name is forever emblazoned in my heart.)

President Lewis gave the students three homework assignments: ask questions, get to know your professors, and get connected. Sounds pretty easy, right? I hoped it would be for Andrew. He’s a pretty outgoing guy, after all.

I’ve only seen him once — so far. He stopped by the house Saturday night, because, while students can go for long periods without food or water, they cannot survive without their cellphone charger.

He retrieved that from a forgotten plug in the den, and I had enough time to ask him how the afternoon had gone. He had started meeting with his First-Year Seminar group.

“Oh, it was great!” he said. “We played a game where we had to tell things about ourselves and decide who the most interesting person was.”

Shades of that Dos Equis guy crossed my mind (“The Most Interesting Man in the World,”) and then a smile crept onto Andrew’s face.

“It was me,” he said. “I didn’t TRY to be interesting.”

“Well, what did you tell them?” I asked.

“I said I’d had a mole taken off the bottom of my foot one time,” he said. (I’d just as soon forget that.) “And I said I’d been going to the same church camp every summer for 19 years.” (Pastors Tim and Mary will love to hear that.)

Of course, I think he’s interesting and smart and handsome and all that stuff moms think about their sons. I hope he’s found another great school. I hope he’ll ask questions and get to know professors and get connected to campus life.

When I got home, Momma told me that hawk had killed a young bird. There were still feathers drifting out on the asphalt. By this morning, they’d blown away. I tried not to read too much into it.

It’s a tough world out there, and college can be fun but challenging. Still, you meet some pretty interesting people, learn stuff you never even dreamed of, and find there’s a great support system in place if you just ask.

And home is never far away.

 Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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