First day of school, 2003. (Courtesy Kevin Cool)


Ready for Takeoff

A new school year is here. This one feels different.


Beginnings are inherently interesting. Starting a job, moving to a different place, introducing a novel idea — there is an electric energy associated with new experiences. No surprise then that the arrival of Stanford’s 11th president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, has people around here buzzing, leaning forward expectantly. What happens next?

Coincidentally, it’s also a transition for Tessier-Lavigne’s daughter, Ella, who joins the Stanford Class of 2020. I don’t have much in common with the university’s new leader, a Canadian-born neuroscientist and former Rhodes scholar, except perhaps our current status as parents of incoming freshmen.

My son heads off to college this fall, too, and I’m suffering the first pangs of separation, imagining how I will fill the void. As I told friends at a dinner party recently, “I don’t have a spare.” He is an only child, and whatever “firsts” I experience as a dad are also “lasts.” I will never have these feelings again, so I’m determined to inhabit them fully, while being as careful as possible not to burden my son with outsize displays of parental angst. Or public crying.

Griffin and I have been regulars at Stanford football games since he was a sixth grader and running back Toby Gerhart was plowing through defensive backs. This year, when the Cardinal tees it up against USC on September 17, I will be in Oregon unloading suitcases and saying goodbye to him, joining the legions of parents who have let go of their kids with equal parts wistful pain and prideful joy.

Of course beginnings also are pregnant with possibilities. Whatever came before slowly recedes — it’s a natural response — and you begin to look forward to what’s around the corner. For freshmen in college, homesickness gives way to a thrilling awareness of being remade. At Stanford, what’s around the corner is often an innovation or breakthrough likely to change the world. And in Tessier-Lavigne, the university has a leader whose record as a change-maker is extraordinary. (See our story on Tessier-Lavigne.)

Few things in life are more satisfying, or more frightening, than breaking a new path. When each step you take lands on unfamiliar ground, you are alert to the thump in your heart, or the knot in your stomach. Stanford’s new president may be having some of those emotions right now. I’m sure my son is.

All parents have wakeful dreams of a promising future for their sons and daughters. And when the time comes, we release them with trembling hands and hopeful hearts. What will become of them? What triumphs and heartbreaks await?

And so starts a New Chapter. As it does for so many other moms and dads facing this transition, what was once abstract will soon feel all too real, and I will be driving home with an empty seat next to me. That’s going to hurt for a while, but I’m excited to see where the road goes now.

Be nice to him, world. •