Sunday, May 1, 2011

In the Family

Yesterday afternoon I found myself in the unusual position of methodically identifying all of my own university's flaws and discussing them before an audience of prospective students.

"This is my favorite school so far," came the enthused proclamation. "I like this way better than Famous Southern State University."

"Famous Southern State has a better social atmosphere, though," I cautioned. "A lot of people here commute."

"Man, this dorm is so nice!"

"You'd be an underclassman, though. The area where you'd be staying is way crappier."

"Whoa, is that any astronomy tower?"

"You're not even majoring in astronomy."

"BB, do you not want me to come here?"

I looked over at him.

"Thomas, of course I want you to come here," I assured him. "I just don't want you to rush into anything."

At quarter after nine on Saturday morning my fifteen-year-old brother and I hauled ourselves out of bed, hopped into my car, and drove the hour and a half southeast to the Goldlands campus of Major University.

Thomas is only in tenth grade but has toured two other colleges already, and I figured that now was as good a time as any to show this possible music major around a state university that happens to have a respected music program.

Of course, the lofty academic goals of the trip were at some points obscured.

"You know everyone is going to think you're on this tour, right?" my brother asked me as we walked into the admissions office.

I shot him a severe gaze.

"That's not true," I replied shortly. "That's just ridiculous."

He smirked as we approached the desk.

"Are you here for the tour?" chirped a receptionist before I'd opened my mouth.

Thomas made ready to laugh at me, but I cut him off.

"He is," I jerked my thumb at my brother. "Just him."

"Okay," the receptionist smiled. "Last name?"

I gave her our surname and, after consulting her computer, she pointed back towards the doorway through which we'd come.

"Okay, great," the woman beamed. She turned to Thomas and handed him a small green bag. "You get this free Major University tote, and you guys can just wait out in the hallway. The tour will start in about twenty minutes."

We thanked her and took our leave, Thomas peering over the balcony.

"So," he turned to me, a dirty grin on his face. "No one's going to think you're on the tour, huh?"

My expression would've growled if it had had a voice.

"That was one person," I said. "And that was only because we walked in there together."

His expression of smugness was almost unbearable.

"Sure it was."

At around eleven-thirty an admissions coordinator came out to lead us to the school's movie theater, from which the tour would officially begin.

We'd not yet reached the stairs when she turned to me and asked, "Honey, did you get a bag?"

After a briefing that ran for about a half hour, the admissions coordinator turned us over to a student guide.

The Freshman was adorable, a petite, rosy-cheeked eighteen-year-old who talked about "boys' floors and girls' floors" in student housing, expressed her happiness that the gym was located across from the dining hall, and assured the parents of potential students that she'd learned a lot because she'd been on campus "almost a whole year."

Thomas saw a lot that he liked on our inspection of the school, and my obvious efforts to temper his enthusiasm seemed to confuse him.

"Dude, I like it," he said at one point. "If I like it right away and decide it's my favorite right away, what's wrong with that?"

"Nothing," I replied. "I'm thrilled that you want to go here. I just think you should consider many different schools. This was my first choice and I got in on early admission, so I never applied anywhere else or even toured anywhere else. As much as I like it here, I regret not looking around more."

A lot of this came out of my not wanting to unduly influence him in favor of Major University. Still, all my exhortations to caution aside, I was just tickled at the impression the school seemed to have on him.

After our guided look-through had ended we met Laquesha and another friend of mine for a late lunch in the student dining hall. Once we'd finished eating, Laquesha and I showed Thomas the Student Website offices, the primary Freshman housing area (where I lived in 2006), an on-campus diner, one of the gyms, my dormitory, Laquesha's dormitory, and a university cafe.

"This is awesome," Thomas commented as we looked through the floor-to-ceiling windows in Laquesha's fourth-floor dormitory and took in the whole campus. "The view alone is worth it."

"Well, trust me, she pays for it," I put in.

Laqeusha nodded.

"I try not to think about it," she told him. "It's like three thousand dollars a semester."

Thomas looked at me.

"You think there's any way Mom and Dad would pay that for me?" he asked.

It was the kind of question that needed no reply save the laughter I gave it.

On our way back to my car Thomas and I swung by the art building, which is where he'd be spending a good deal of his time if he entered as a Freshman music major.

We'd arrived at Major University at eleven o'clock in the morning and didn't leave until nearly seven o'clock at night, but after eight hours on his feet Thomas was still excited about all he'd seen, if a bit tired to boot.

This is not by any means a done deal; Thomas has two years of high school left, and I've encouraged him to sample potential universities widely in that time. Even if by his Senior Year he still sees Major University as his top choice, though, other obstacles will remain.

Major University is, for example, one of the best post-secondary institutions in the U.S. for certain fields of study, and its competitive entrance standards reflect that status.

Then there's the problem of cost: when he shared how much he liked the school with my parents and I asked them where else he should visit, my mother responded, "Western County Community College."

Their aversion to financing higher education does not appear to have relaxed with regard to Thomas, but that will likely be an issue no matter where he decides to go.

The important thing is that this is doable. Major University may be hard to get in to, but Thomas already has a sibling there and his grades are good enough that, with hard work, he could graduate high school boasting a solid GPA.

The money will be there, too, somehow. I also struggled with parents whose abundant ability but near total unwillingness to pay my tuition made college a constant fight.

I hope Thomas will never experience the nasty double vise of parents who refuse to help even as their high income makes him ineligible for government aid. Maybe our mother and father will have learned better by then. If not, he'll have loans and Grand Ma Normal Family, who's saved for all of her grandchildren. Assuming I've done well enough, he might even have me.

There's still plenty of time until then, of course.

Yesterday may one day be looked back on as my brother's first step toward university. For now, though, until those important decisions are made, it was just a nice Saturday.


Anonymously Me said...

Ahaha, I love the beginning conversation.

laura b. said...

The fact that your younger brother is already making plans is a great sign.

And you are right, a lot of parents can't (or won't) put their children through college, but there are many other options for financing.

naturgesetz said...

I must say, I'm a bit surprised that your parents aren't willing to fund Thomas's college education. Maybe they feel that he will learn self-reliance if they don't pay for it, but it still seems harsh.

Well, as long as he can go, that's what's really important. And it's nice that he likes your alma mater.