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.