Most parents are familiar with the phenomena of waking up one day to discover that your child has suddenly reached a milestone well before you are ready for it: first word, first steps, first birthday, first day of school and so on. My wife and I suddenly find ourselves moving our oldest son to college. We’ve had plenty of preparation for this, of course. Last spring, he earned associates degrees from Pierce College and he moved out of the house to our friends’ house up the street because of construction. Still, it doesn’t seem possible that he’s moved away this weekend.
He’s always been a self-starter. When he was in pre-school, he got up on his own, made cereal and turned on the TV until we got up to take him to school. On his first day he cried to be left alone, but by the next week he had adjusted to us leaving him there. It wasn’t long before he was the sort of kid who ordered his own meal at restaurants and didn’t mind talking with strangers.
We moved to Burbank for kindergarten and I drove him to Washington Elementary on my way to work. Washington offers services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students with at least one class in each grade having an interpreter. Our son became friends with students in that community and learned some basics of American Sign Language (ASL). Over the years, he’s taken ASL classes at Burbank High, Glendale Community College, and earned his associates degrees in ASL and ASL Interpreting.
Before his junior year at Burbank High, he told us he wanted to switch to Burbank’s Independent Learning Academy (ILA) which allows students to take classes at their own pace. We told him to do the research and let us know what needed to be done. Together we met with his counselor and the ILA principal to determine if this was a good option.^1 Since COVID hit at the end of the school year, the timing could hardly be better. While his friends had to make difficult adjustments, our son just kept taking his online classes. The hard part for him was completing his electives at Burbank High. Band and dance don’t lend themselves to distance learning.
Thanks to ILA, he graduated a semester early. He decided to take online classes at Pierce College right away. As always, he made his plans on his own with only minimal input from us. When in-person classes opened up, he tried riding his bike to school. That took an hour and a half on roads not well suited for bike travel. Since he doesn’t have (or want) a drivers license, his only other option is to take the bus, which also takes an hour and a half. At least that way he could study and rest. He’s been fascinated with public transportation since he was a toddler and he spotted the “bus train” (what he called the MTA’s light rail vehicles) in the median of the 210 freeway. Now he has practical experience with it.
His plan had been to continue Deaf Studies at Cal State Northridge, but his interest in urban planning led him to also apply to San Fransisco State’s Urban Studies & Planning program. My wife suggested he also apply to Cal Poly’s City and Regional Planning Department (CRP). After submitting the application, he visited with his friends during an unusually wet season. Unsurprisingly, he fell in love with the beautiful campus and the bike-friendly city. When he came home, he told us that’s where he wanted to go.^2
The pandemic changed everyone’s journey to college.^3 But I don’t think our son’s story was as impacted as most. He was ahead of the curve taking asynchronous classes online. He didn’t take the SAT or ACT because he entered higher education via community college rather than the freshman application. His approach to to learning has been hands-on and independent, not because he didn’t have our support, but because he always wants to test his own abilities. Since the job of the parent is to push your children out of the nest, we couldn’t be more proud of our son.
This is an edited version of a post on my personal website. I showed that version to my son to make sure I didn’t betray his confidence. This version removes identifying information in keeping with the confidential nature of this site.
^1: It definitely was.
^2: He’s looking forward to taking the train home from school and we’re looking forward to visiting him. San Luis Obispo is lovely even when it’s brown at the end of summer.
^3: We talk about it fairly often on the CC podcast.