Tonight, as I am packing the last few items in the duffels that will accompany my daughter to college tomorrow, I remember each “first day” of her progression from kindergarten through 12th grade. The rites of back-to-school were always the same; trips to the uniform store convincing her that polyester skorts with elasticized waists were definitely cool, finally accepting that the vinyl hot pink Hello Kitty backpack could not possibly be used two years in a row, and trekking to Target to find the college-ruled 5-subject spiral notebook that wouldn’t be used for more than one subject. I remember lining up for carpool an hour before dismissal so that I could get the first glimpse of her face in an effort to know ahead of time whether or not today was a good day. Did she sit with her friends at lunch? Did she get chosen to be line leader? These simple questions soon gave way to other questions that seemed at the time to be so much more important. When will she learn multiplication? Is she reading at a 5th grade level while still in 1st grade? Did she ace her spelling test again? The questions continued into high school. How many AP classes can she take? Should she start her college essays in 10th grade? How many times should she take the SATs or the ACTs?
So now as I look at the empty hangers in the closet and the drawers so vacant that they actually close, I realize that none of those “important” questions really mattered. She learned multiplication, at some point read at a 5th grade level, and had a high school transcript impressive enough for more than one college to offer her a spot in their class of 2018. Is she ready for college because of accelerated math skills or the diorama she painstakingly glued and painted as part of a book report? No… she’s ready for college because sometimes the math wasn’t easy, and sometimes the literary elements were confusing, and sometimes the test scores were not in the 99th percentile. She’s ready for college because she learned to persevere whether it was learning a new skill or navigating the halls of a new school. She’s ready for college because she has character, values, and a sense of what’s right and wrong. She’s ready because she has what is referred to as “grit.” Grit isn’t found in a curriculum or textbook – grit comes from realizing that life may not always be fair and it may not always be easy. Grit is developed by setting goals that may at times seem insurmountable, but striving for them anyway. We don’t give grades for grit, but maybe we should, for if we did, it would be interesting to see which students really earned straight A’s.
A new chapter in our lives begins tomorrow. Although I won’t be there to pick her up next week on another first day of school, I have a feeling that she’ll be okay without me asking the important questions about her day or paving the way with gifts for her teachers. And as for me? I’ll have to work on developing grit too as I learn to make my way in a house that will be just a little too quiet.
Read more about the characteristics of grit