Change Becomes You
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Change Becomes You

College Survival Kit — Dad to Daughter

Here is the box along with four pages of instructions!

My oldest daughter moves into her freshman dorm today. For anyone that has been through this experience, I am sure you will agree it is both a proud and anxious moment as a parent. In the weeks leading up to this big event, I have found myself more nervous about it than I ever thought I would be. I consider myself a pretty laid-back Dad and I have been rewarded thus far with teenage years that have come without much drama. Still, the memories of things I did or saw in college combined with the social media influences of today have me just a little bit on edge and a little more worried than normal. For one thing, as the old saying goes, if you have a boy you just have to worry about him, but if you have a daughter you have to worry about every boy in town!

Let’s be honest, her mother has done most of the heavy lifting to get her ready to leave. They have spent the time shopping, planning, and coordinating the things she will need in her dorm room. However, past that, I felt compelled to make sure she had what she needed, so secretly I started gathering stuff for my own “college survival kit”. I started with a toolbox and a flashlight. Fun stuff, I know, but they were things I felt were important nonetheless. What ended up in the box is a mix of things I picked up around the house or got at the local grocery store. None of it was very fancy, but survival isn’t about being fancy. For me, I wanted her to have a few familiar things of comfort for days when things were not going well or she longed for home. I wanted her to have a sense of peace, a few sentimental items, and some last words of advice.

Some of the items are older than she is and have been around a long time. Some, like the succulent plants that my wife gave her, have carved a place in our home in recent years. All of them were personalized and came from the heart. Here is what made it into the box and my rationale behind each item:

College Survival Kit

Flashlight- It is always good to have a flashlight because you never know when you are going to need it.

“God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” — Genesis 1:4

M & M’s- Remember that just like people, they all look a little different, but there is common good on the inside.

Duct Tape — You can fix many problems with it. It won’t make problems go away, but it will buy you time until you can replace it or decide to live with it.

Lifesavers- Never trust anyone that turns down a lifesaver mint.

Gum — Persistence is one of the greatest characteristics you can have. Don’t give up. STICK to it!

BE BOLD — Try new things, but also don’t be afraid not to try them if they aren’t for you. Trust your gut. Speak up for yourself and for others. Get involved in something.

Read — (two books) I know I don’t have to tell you to read, but I encourage you to read outside your comfort zone. If you only read things you agree with or like, you won’t expand your mind and soul the way you could. But don’t believe everything you read and take comfort in rereading an old favorite.

Pistachios — You will encounter all kinds of nuts as you go through life. Enjoy the good ones and throw the bad ones away.

Koozie- (from the Billy Joel concert we went to)Enjoy a cool refreshing drink every now in then. The water is good. If you choose to drink alcohol, remember the 3 drink rule. Never have more than 3 drinks and never take one that you don’t know where it came from.

Journal- Write down your thoughts. Doodle them. Sketch them. Reflect on a date or an adventure. Question things. Record your opinions. Writing is the best way to create a vision or a memory. I hope you do both.

CDs — Good music soothes the soul. Find the lyrics you like and let them be a comfort you in good times and in bad. Some of my favorites (and yours) are in this case!

Pictures — (of the two of us) They are like a time capsule. Picture don’t grow up. Pictures never change. They are frozen in time. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Enjoy them. Don’t waste time taking too many, but take some. You will be glad you did later in life. I promise. And of course, you don’t have to post them on social media. They are for you.

Blanket — This blanket is one of the first purchases your mother and I made together. It’s been around longer than you. When you wrap up in it, be comforted that your parent's love is always wrapped around you.

Sweatshirt — The comfort of an old sweatshirt is unmatched by almost anything. When you slip it on this fall, I hope you smile and know you are loved.

Stamps- Gratitude is important. Keep these and when the time comes, send a thank you note or just a note to say hello to a friend or relative. Always say thank you and always mean it.

Atlas- You may never use this in a practical sense, but I hope you will appreciate the symbolism. I hope you will see the world. I wish I had seen more of it when I was younger. I can’t stress this enough, I will help you as much as I can but take some adventures in the USA or abroad. The atlas can also help you come back home.

Candle — A cup of coffee, a good book, and a burning candle can be just the thing for a peaceful few moments alone. Take time for yourself and take time to reflect. Enjoy.

Succulent — I hope these will stay with you and a little piece of our home that you can take with you. They need your care and comfort. Always remember to be a good friend, even when the other person can’t reciprocate…just like the cacti.

Toolbox — My dad taught me that every tool has a purpose. This is good to remember. When you use the wrong tool, it may seem worthless but when you use the correct one, it often works like a charm. When you are using something for a purpose in which it is not intended, don’t blame the tool if it doesn’t work.

And finally, I left her with one of my favorite quotes:

“I want you to get swept away out there. I want you to levitate. I want you to sing with rapture and dance like a dervish. Yeah. Be deliriously happy, or at least leave yourself open to be. I know it’s a cornball thing, but love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. I say, fall head over heels.

Find someone you can love like crazy and who will love you the same way back. How do you find him? Well, you forget your head, and you listen to your heart. And I’m not hearing any heart. Cause the truth is, honey, there’s no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven’t lived a life at all. But you have to try, cause if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.” Anthony Hopkins as William Parish to his daughter in Meet Joe Black

I do not know if any of these will help my daughter (the ultimate goal) or, if will help other parents out there sending their kids off to college. I did not share with you the letter I added to the box. That part was personal. I know we can not protect them from everything and I know she will make her own way in the world. She is nervous, but she is ready…just like her Dad.



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Dr. Robert Thornell

Dr. Robert Thornell


As a husband, father of five in a blended family, and an educator for 25+ years, I have seen, heard, and experienced a great life. I just love sharing ideas!