Matt Keenan: For a parent, college orientation can be very disorienting

06/17/2014 1:49 PM

06/17/2014 6:14 PM

“Good morning! Rock Chalk!” the lady declared in front of a crowded auditorium at the KU student union. And so began the KU freshman orientation earlier this month.

Officially, the agenda was to “learn what it means to be a University of Kansas student both in and out of the classroom.”

Unofficial agendas involved, yes, learning, but nothing having to do with English 101. Boys’ priorities: ditching mom, finding Jimmy Johns, the ATM machine, the fake ID guy and the North Corbin directory. Girls’: tanning salon options, snapping Jayhawk selfies and finding a charging station.

My first take — for maybe two-thirds of those in attendance — the run-up was an exercise for the 18-year-olds to look 24 and their 48-year-old mothers to look 21. Sun dresses, Tori Burch sandals and hair treatments from Bijin were in overdrive. The rain brought out designer rain gear: Trending large were Hunter boots with labels big enough Mr. Magoo could read them.

As for the formal presentation, the first hour was part Tony Robbins, part Mahatma Ghandi. The speakers dabbled heavy in terms like explore, inspire, adventure, tools, motivate, life-long learning, assimilate, enrich your experiences, research, learning, collaborate, communities, and building a better world. Everyone there was on track for a Nobel Prize. Except the dude in front of me. He was on track for a more dubious record: texting speed.

One major theme was promoting “study abroad.” The speaker used those words six times at my count. Some focus group must tell universities it’s a home run. This was a significant departure from my orientation in July 1977. To study a broad had nothing to do with getting a passport. Her name was Kathy and she lived at the Delta Gamma house. Even if it meant going to London, Larry and Ramona would have said “forget it” but that would have required them to actually attend orientation with me. I went solo, driving up and back, windows down, from Great Bend with a classmate in an 18-hour day.

By the afternoon, the subjects were more practical, best summarized this way: 1) get your shots, and 2) don’t be stupid. The one thing that got my attention was the reassurance that Watkins student health services “no longer has retired doctors with one foot in the grave.” That was good, since the doctor I saw there in October 1978 was actually practicing from the grave.

But the day was a difficult one for me, yes, in part because the departure of the golden-child-only-daughter-last-child was inching toward finality. But also because Lori demanded that I could not ask questions, toss verbal grenades, talk to strangers, comment on others’ clothes, academic standing, etc. I was, as Lori said, “in a box.”

But had the shackles been free, I would have asked these questions at the most awkward moment:

“I haven’t heard anything about job prospects for graduates.”

“Our basement is full. Can you make sure our children don’t end up there?”

“Is Charlie Weis still the coach or did he get lost in the cafeteria?”

“Where is Bill Self’s office? I need to ask him some questions about play calling.”

“I see some creepy guys here. Have we inspected their transcripts?”

“Do you still hold parking tickets against students for 30 years? If not, then where can I get my diploma?”

“I heard a quarter of the freshman never return for their sophomore year. Where do they go?”

When Maggie arrives for move-in day in 59 days, seven hours and 33 minutes from today, restraint will not be an issue. Just tissues.

Freelancer Matt Keenan writes alternate weeks.

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