College Talk

By Qin Sun Stubis

For the past ten years, August has been the high point for our family summer fun, whether we’re exploring the endless stretch of Long Island beaches, vacationing in a sea shack on Fire Island, or taking an adventurous trip somewhere. But, this August is working out very differently. Instead of exploring beaches, we’re exploring our new neighborhood in Bethesda, Maryland. And, most of all, we’re sending our first-born son, Keaton, to M.IT.!

After all the college planning, applications, and waiting, I should be very excited about him entering the most elite college for math and the sciences. Yet, as a mother, I have such sweet and bitter feelings about sending him away. I marvel at the work of a powerful magician named “Time” who has turned my little boy into a young man before my very eyes.

I could still see myself looking through a curtain of tears and standing helplessly in front of his kindergarten bus as it pulled away, carrying his desperate cries for me, wanting to be rescued. I just stood there, did nothing, and watched until the bus disappeared from my sight. It was painful to witness him taking his very first step alone into the world.

Now that pain has come back to me in a more intense way. I’ve realized that I’ll have to say goodbye to him and leave him there in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the journey back to Maryland won’t be an easy one.

My life will change forever along with his. Once more, I have to set aside my personal emotions and watch him as he takes his first step into an even bigger and more challenging world. I do take comfort in knowing that M.I.T., a 150-year-old world-class college, has dealt with many sensitive parents like myself, and with first year college students like Keaton. I am also well aware of the fact that sooner or later, everyone experiences the pain of leaving home and survives it somehow. That includes Keaton, and me, many years ago.

It’s been more than three decades since my parents sent me to my first college, the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Languages, the Chinese equivalent of an Ivy League school for the liberal arts. It was in the late ‘70s, not long after the communist iron curtain was lifted. Life was hard then for my family. After learning of my college acceptance, my mother scraped together every penny she had and spent the next three months sewing me some blouses and jackets, knitting sweaters, and making a new cotton-stuffed quilt.

On that fateful day, my father carried a beaten-up ancient suitcase filled with my clothes, my mother had two wash basins under one arm and a hot-water thermos bottle under another, my uncle held my bedding in a bundle high on his shoulder, and I followed them with my new backpack, and a hand-made gift from a family friend. We had to catch three jam-packed public buses and walk a lot before we arrived at the huge institute surrounded by a tall concrete wall. I was very sad and scared because I had never left home before.

Soon enough though, I forgot all about my sadness when I found a friend named Fay. She was older than I was and had left home before. We started to explore around and had a lot of fun. We lived on the campus for the next four years studying 19th Century English literature and had a great time. Fay and I still remain best friends to this day.

For all those parents and grandparents who are sending kids to colleges this Fall, I share your pain and pride in seeing your children growing up. No one has put this kind of human emotions into better words than William Shakespeare: Parting is such sweet sorrow. Remember however, sorrow will soon pass, and only sweetness shall accompany your memories long after your kids’ college days are over.

You can always reach me at

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