Be Known: A Daughter Goes to College

In my role as George Fox University’s president part of my job is to help others see our vision and passion for students. Last week as 600 hundred new students joined our campus, I reminded parents that we are committed to knowing their children spiritually and academically and preparing them to be God’s agents in our world.

This past weekend Ruth and I stepped into a different role – strictly parents – as we took our daughter Rebekah to college. My daughter chose to attend Azusa Pacific University in California. For her, it was not really a choice against GFU, but a desire to develop on her own away from the shadow of her parents in Newberg. Her father, of course, wishes that she had chosen to stay closer to home but for obvious selfish reasons.

We got to experience university orientation as part of a “normal” family sending their daughter to college. I have often thought that some of us who make college life our career fail to understand what families go through as they send their children off to college. I can now tell you, from personal experience, parting with your child is far more difficult than I ever imagined. I do not want to assume that everyone’s experience was as emotional as my own, but I am sure that at least some parents, particularly fathers, share my own experience of taking a daughter away to college.

It is a long drive from Portland to Azusa, Calif., (roughly 16 hours). Rebekah wanted to take quite a few things, so it made more sense to drive (at least it seemed that way) than to fly. Road trips allow for time to talk and to share experiences, which is at least a side benefit to sitting in a car for that long. Fortunately for us, Azusa started a week after George Fox, making it possible for us to attend the orientation together. We arrived late on a Thursday evening and checked into the hotel a short distance from Azusa. I am getting old enough that driving 16 hours is quite challenging!

Early the next morning we headed to Azusa, and when we drove on campus we were greeted by orientation students who lined the driveway to the residence halls and gave high-fives to all the parents and students coming on campus for the first time. Rebekah loved the energy and the bright faces of students her age excited about school and the new APU incoming class. I was never much of a “rah-rah” kind of person so I found it more irritating than energizing, but then I had driven 16 hours the day before and I am 53! The parking lot seemed to have hundreds of cars in it, but they reserved the front of Adams Hall, where Rebekah is staying, for parents and students to unload their cars. As soon as we drove up, about 10 students greeted us and began unloading our SUV. I was somewhat dreading hauling all of her stuff into the residence hall, but in less than five minutes the students had unloaded our entire car and had it in her room. Now that was cool! The kids had smiling faces and provided just the kind of greeting a parent would want.

After the students unloaded the car I had to park. That proved challenging. I moved the car to the west campus about a half-mile away. Ruth and Rebekah stayed and unpacked the room. It took me about 30 minutes to get back to Adams Hall, and it was quite hot that day so the sweat was running down my face when I came into her room. It is spacious, with room for all her stuff. Her roommate is quite a nice young lady, Dominique from Whittier, Calif. I got assigned the typical “dad tasks” – set up the computer (which I did successfully, which I’m sure will surprise our IT department) and go to the store to buy the stuff that Rebekah now deems as necessary in a residence hall. Fortunately, there is a Target just down the street, and I was able to pick up a refrigerator, printer, hangers and various storage items in short order. We had the room pretty much set up by 4 p.m. This part was actually easy because you were always busy and focused on the tasks at hand. The difficult part was to come later.

At 5 p.m. we headed to the opening sessions for new students held at a large sports facility which seats about 4,000 – I believe every seat was taken. We sat in the upper deck with Rebekah and her roommate’s family. The featured speaker for the evening was the president, John Wallace. President Wallace was personal, thoughtful, and engaging. He consistently emphasized the spiritual qualities of his institution and how they were dedicated to helping our child become all God made her to be – that was a comforting message to a parent. After an hour they dismissed our students and they went to go do things with their orientation leaders. Then John talked very personally with the parents.

He told his own story of college and that of his children. He made you feel like he knew what you were feeling. He then did one of the most significant things I had ever participated in as a parent. He gave the parent teams cards and asked us to write a letter to our child talking about our fears, our hopes and our wishes for them in Christ. He then told us that they would take the letters and deliver them the second week in November – I can tell you that this was tough for me.  For the first time since I began the orientation process I began to face the fact that I would be leaving Rebekah on her own in a couple of days. Life for our family was changing.

We left Rebekah to spend the night in the residence hall and the process of separation began. We came back the next morning for more sessions. One of the unique things about this college is that they use the language of growth to give you a sense of the success of the institution. I wrote down the adjectives speakers were using  – largest, biggest, growing, aggressive. You are surrounded by lots of people, there are lots of cars, the lines are long – there is a bustle that goes with being part of a large institution.

I do not mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with being large or aggressive. But at this moment, I was listening as a parent (with a biased view) and not as a president of George Fox University. Later in the morning sessions a faculty speaker, Laurie Shreiner, opened the session to questions and asked parents to share their fears.  I am not sure what she was looking for but here is what she got:

1. My daughter may be in her room all alone with no one noticing.
2. The campus is large and the east and west campuses are separate from each other. What are you doing to ensure my child’s safety?
3. I am concerned about my child’s academic performance. How quickly will I get notification that my son is doing poorly? (Of course the answer is you won’t because of FERPA.)
4. My daughter has health issues. Will she get the same level of care I have offered her?

I sat there and I listened. This was fascinating – the parents wanted to talk about care, fears and safety. They were asking my questions – the ones that were on my heart! I know, Azusa, that you place God first, that you are a quality academic institution, that you continue to grow, and that you are the largest. That is all great. But what I really want to know is that, in the midst of this growing institution, will my child be known? Will someone take her and love her as I do? Will someone see her as a unique creation of God and help her find God’s place in life? Who at the institution will take President Wallace’s vision and make it real for my child? That is the key – to be known by each other and by God.  It is our promise at George Fox.

Well, it was time to go home – the day I did not look forward to. We got up on Sunday morning and ran by Adams Hall to deliver one last package and to pray. Most of you have heard me say that “real men don’t cry.” Well I may not be a real man, but I probably just lied. We met Rebekah at the front of the hall and hugged as a family, and Ruth asked me to pray. Well my voice cracked and the tears streamed down my face and I did my best – God knew what I was feeling in my heart. We hugged one more time and then we drove away – 16 more hours to home but without one daughter. I always wondered what my parents thought when I left home to attend college 35 years ago – I think I know a little better now.

I am writing this blog as Ruth drives the last few miles to home. We are passing through Roseburg, and there is our billboard: Be Known by Name. I’m telling you it is every parent’s wish and dream that their child will find their place at our kind of institution. More than 300 parents have that wish for their children at George Fox, and it is our calling in Christ to make that a reality – Be Known. I do not know my daughter’s institution well, but I do know George Fox. We are committed to our promise. I invite parents to test us on this – I pray Rebekah’s experience will match the experience we create here for students at George Fox University.

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9 Responses to Be Known: A Daughter Goes to College

  1. Peggy Buckley says:

    I’m so thankful for your post (although it did make me cry). My son John is a freshman at GFU, clear across the country from us here in MA, and I am comforted to know he is experiencing the care you’ve built at the community there. Thank you!!! God bless!

  2. I, too am thankful and blessed by your post. My daughter Katriona is a freshman at GFU and it is her first time ever in her life that she has been away from home for more than 10 days without us. It is good to know Robin, that you have also experienced what other parents did when we drove away from our child on August 27th. I have peace in my heart knowing that GFU will take care of my daughter. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Joy Stutts says:

    Tears fell as I read the blog. We have a daughter at APU and just dropped our daughter off at GFU (the opposite 16 hour drive from So Cal). We found orientation at GFU to be a faith-filled experience; the good-bye was heartwrenching and we felt so blessed to leave Erika with the Fox Family. We know she will be taken care of – this first chapter is particular challenging for her (and us) because she is having a mono relapse (and I’m too far away to help!). We pray God’s blessing on all the college campuses!

  4. Layton Holcombe says:

    Enjoyed your comments. A dad can always hope and pray for the best….but, accept their choices as we watch them grow. My boys have gone through the University of Colorado, University of Washington and Southern Methodist University. The GFC(U) experience I had exceeds anything available from the “big name” schools. The direct contacts offered me with the heads of 5 different academic departments @ GFC(U) made graduate school at a State University seem like high school all over again.. A freshman can hide at any university if they desire….however, if they seek a high quality academic and community experience then GFU offers both. I hope my next son to attend college the fall of 2012 gives Fox a good look.

  5. Melanie Springer Mock says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful post, a good reminder for us who work at George Fox that the people in our classes are someone’s beloved daughter or son. I’m nine years away from taking my kids to college, but/and dreading the sadness already.

  6. NADINE KINCAID says:

    Thank you for posting your honest emotions President Baker! Although I work at George Fox University in the Security department, I experienced the same emotions when my twins enrolled at GFU and we walked through the Orientation process as parents with our children. Despite the fact there was the potential of seeing one or both of them each week, it didn’t lessen the “concerns” that you wrote about-would my children be cared for and loved? Would they be “noticed” by staff and faculty, or would they be just another “number” in the crowd? Would they leave their faith behind? Would they make lasting friendships? Six years later, I’m happy to report that George Fox University did not disappoint! Both children loved their time here, and formed lasting relationships with staff, faculty, and other students, and weren’t just an unknown face in a large lecture hall. And in addition to the quality education they received, they are both fully engaged in bringing the love of Jesus to others through their employment situations. So, take heart parents! As somebody who has seen the “process” from both the employee and parent sides, it is fun to sit back and see the transformation in your child from the scared, nervous, anxious student you left off to the confident, well-educated adult that will walk across the stage to receive their diploma in a few more years.

  7. Bekki Woertink says:

    I thought I had finally put the box of Kleenex away for awhile, but your article made me have to go pull it out again! We were on a parallel journey in opposite directions. We left our beloved town of Ventura, CA to make the bittersweet journey to take our first born (Matt) and deliver him to GFU. He had fallen in love with GFU during the Bruin preview, but this was our first experience walking on campus. Now I had already bonded with his admissions counselor (Hi Lindsay!) and had already got a taste of “being known” from everyone I had spoken with over the phone, but I was not sure how I would feel knowing this would soon be the place our son would call home and we would have to leave without him. Would he really “be known”, will the school really try to live that philosophy, will I feel it, will he? Despite all the tears I shed those two days, the overwhelming sense of peace resided in my heart and I know my son won’t be just a number at GFU. He will Be Known. I appreciate all the effort that the staff, administrators, professors, etc go into making this a reality. I still cried like a baby when the 4pm bell rang and all the freshman started loading up on the buses for their Mystery bus tour..however, I walked away with less fear, more peace, less sadness, more joy, no anxiety, only hope for what is to come…knowing this is where Matt belongs and this is where he will grow and Be Known! Thank you for understanding and sharing your story…blessings to you and your daughter during this bittersweet year of growth and discovery!

  8. Donna Sakabu says:

    I sure appreciate your candor, President Baker! This parenting journey is not for the faint of heart-and thankfully we have the Lord with us every step of the way. My husband, sons and I had the delightful opportunity to visit Oregon in April during our Easter break. We attended a “Monday @ Fox” event, not quite knowing what to expect. Each of us loved our day there! My sons are in their freshman and junior years of high school. We’ve had opportunities over summer break to tour other Christian colleges (including APU). Both sons still rank GFU highest on their lists. God has created each of them uniquely-but the GFU experience in April made a lasting impact on each one, for different reasons. Something they both agreed on was that attending classes made college seem more tangible and doable for them. Our younger son, who often has had stars in his eyes about the “big name” schools (e.g. OSU, where we also toured that same week, after GFU), bought a GFU book bag and wears it proudly. People ask him about GFU because of the bag-so he’s spreading the word! We all fell in love with our first visit to the Willamette Valley-and look forward to returning. We’ll definitely be back for more in-depth previews of GFU. Blessings and best regards!

  9. Pattie Buck says:

    Thank you, President Baker, for allowing us to see this side of you! We have left not one, but two daughters at GFU and I do not think they miss us very much. Thanks to a great staff, facility and students both our daughters have found a home away from home. No, it is not easy to push the little birds out of the nest. But if we don’t allow them to try we could not see them spread their wings and fly. Thank you for all your efforts to make GFU a place to BE KNOWN.