A Different Path

“Mom, look at this.”

Z handed me an envelope.  It was oversized, and the return address was the University of Pittsburgh.  He hadn’t opened it yet.

Helping Zach apply to colleges last fall had been an overwhelming experience for me.  It was a constant series of flashbacks to my own time doing the same thing.  In some ways, it was all so similar to me:  my son and I were so similar in our academic performance.  He had earned stunningly high grades and SAT scores, as I had.  It left the choices so wide and vast as to where his life would begin, as it had for me.

When I had sat down to choose colleges to apply to, I remembered the experience being a solitary one.  Neither one of my parents had ever sat down with me to choose; the ones I’d applied to had been choices of familiarity coupled with random choices based on location.  I had known that my mother couldn’t really afford an out of state choice, but on a whim I’d applied to Boston University and Tulane mostly because I’d always wanted to visit New Orleans and Boston.  My in state choices were again chosen based on my heart, not my head.  I’d applied to Wayne State just to see if I could earn their Merit Scholarship (I did), Michigan State because I was familiar with it from dating Ray, and Calvin College because it was in Grand Rapids, where my extended family had once lived.  No counselor at school had mentioned perhaps I should apply to the University of Michigan based on my grades and scores.  In the end, I’d gone to school where my best friend and boyfriend had decided to go to school.  My college choice was wrapped up in emotion; when it came time for Zach to consider his choices, I vowed he would not repeat my own mistakes.

We’d purchased US News and World Report “100 Best Colleges” tome, we did research.  We attended meetings held by the guidance department at Z’s high school about how to choose a college.  We visited some of the obvious choices, something else I’d never done when considering my own options.  In the end, Zach applied to seven schools:  Yale (because it was so close he couldn’t help himself, even though we knew we could never afford to send him there), Penn, University of Delaware, University of Connecticut, University of Michigan (I was no longer biased against it), Rennsaeler Polytechnic, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Pitt was the odd man out in the grouping.  While all of the schools were rated well and had good programs, Pitt stood alone in the middle of our two geographic target areas:  east coast (where we currently lived) and Michigan (where we used to live but still had family).  I had been surprised when Zach had decided to apply there; they had been sending him literature ever since he rocked out his PSATs.  The slick brochures touted all of the great advantages of attending an urban university; its close proximity to other great schools such as Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon; its top rated Honors College; its fantastic sports program.  The sports program was important to Z because he planned on continuing in a collegiate marching band; having a strong sports program meant by default a good marching band.

“Well, it’s a big envelope.  That’s encouraging.  It doesn’t take a lot of paper to say you’re not in,” I offered.  “Do you want me to open it?”

He shook his head and held out his hand.  I handed back the package, and Z tore it open, leaving ragged edges at the top.  I hoped he hadn’t ripped any of the papers inside.  He read over the cover letter silently, his eyes scanning the page quickly.  I saw him go back and reread a section, before he looked up at me.

“What?” I asked.  “I can’t stand it, what?”

“They offered me a full scholarship,” he responded.  “Look.”

My heart fell to the floor in relief.  A full scholarship.  No matter what else happened, no matter what, my son was going to get his college education, and we would be able to afford it.  I could feel the emotion welling up in my chest.

“Congratulations,” I whispered, and reached out to hug my son.


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