The Home Team: The last graduate
A number of years back, I wrote, "Accept My Kid, Please! A Dad's Descent Into College Application Hell." (Yes, you can still buy it on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and wherever fine books are sold. What a wonderful gift idea for your grad!)
The book was written primarily as a humorous memoir -- the preposterous experiences my wife and I, both monumentally over-involved, had shepherding our first son through the college "process." But, as it turned out, quite a few readers subsequently told me they learned some valuable lessons from my tales -- the most important being this: Try not to get too bent out of shape in spite of all the madness that surrounds you, remembering that, by and large, the kids wind up happy with the schools they ultimately choose.
As the author of "Accept My Kid," I came to be taken as something of an expert in the field, and did a good bit of speaking, but I think what educated me more than writing the book was going through the process either first- or second-hand, with my own three sons and my sister's three daughters. Yes, six college experiences, up close and personal, and five college graduations within a six-year period.
With our youngest son about to become the sixth member of the Cousins Club to graduate -- this weekend -- here's what I remember, and what I learned, from the previous five.
Kat: Yale, 2002
Memories: George Pataki as commencement speaker, just a few short months after 9/11. Having to throw a tennis ball around the Old Campus quad with 8-year-old Robby, endlessly, while all the other adults get to eat, drink, relax and shmooze.
What I learned: Probably not a great idea for five senior girls to "take care" of a 13-year-old epileptic dog in an off-campus apartment.
Matt: Trinity, 2003
Memories: Wondering why the cartoonist Gary Trudeau, a Yalie, is the Trinity commencement speaker. Wondering how Matt's friend Brian, speaking on behalf of the student body, manages to be way funnier than Gary Trudeau. Wondering why I have to miss large parts of both speeches because I have to throw the football around endlessly with 9-year-old Robby.
What I learned: While graduating senior boys may be incapable of many things, they are good at picking a super-expensive restaurant for the family graduation dinner, to be paid for by parents.
Sarah: Dartmouth, 2004
Memories: Believe it or not, this is my first time in New Hampshire. We stay at some really cheesy motel. Some really boring business big-shot is the commencement speaker.
What I learned: Hanover, N.H., is "the middle of nowhere," according to my three sons. And none of them wants to go to college in the middle of nowhere.
Greg: University of Pennsylvania, 2006
Memories: Actress Jodie Foster, an alum, is the commencement speaker. Off-beat choice, but mildly entertaining. That evening I celebrate so heartily with Greg and his friends at the Blarney Stone that I can barely find my way back to the Inn at Penn, which is less than two blocks away.
What I learned: College kids are better at drinking than their dads
Patty (Colgate, 2007)
Memories: Wondering about the wisdom of having the graduates, who've done some serious pre-gaming, make their ritual parade around campus carrying lighted candles.
What I learned: Hamilton, N.Y., too, according to my sons, is "the middle of nowhere."
As you read this, my wife and I will be at the University of Southern California graduation of our youngest son. In L.A., where, it seems, it's always 78 and sunny. We'll be staying at our favorite hotel on the beach in Santa Monica. We'll have breakfast at Perry's Cafe, with the birds chirping. Dinner at Capo, on Ocean Avenue. We'll stroll the Third Street Promenade. We'll jog on the boardwalk to Venice Beach. And, oh yes, we'll even spend some time on the USC campus, amid the palm trees, for graduation festivities.
It's too early to report on the memories, but I can tell you what I learned: Send your third kid to college at a place you really like to visit.
"The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman. To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.