It wasn't the best school year

I found the dress in the closet last week. The same, one and only, black cocktail dress my mother bought for me just before I left for college.

The same off the shoulder, long sleeved, sheath she thought would be perfect for me. The very same wool dress. Now, some 38 years old. And, still, never worn. I don't know why I still have it.

It wasn't perfect. It was wrong, all wrong. Like everything that September.

Does everyone have one lonesome September?

The year the oldest started kindergarten? The youngest?

The year you moved and everyone had to make new friends at new schools in still another state?

Sending a son or daughter off to college? Or the year you left home for college?

The fall I left home for college. 1960. Just 300 miles from home. Same state. But I knew not one of the 25,000 other students. No one from my high school class. No one.

There I was, with all the wrong clothes, despite the big shopping trip I'd had with my mother.

And, with two roommates. Marilyn and Carolyn. These were not relationships made in heaven. One was already pregnant when she arrived, and left only a month later. To be replaced by still another Marilyn, or a Carolyn, I don't remember which, who fancied herself a beauty queen rather than a student.

The other had a boyfriend named Harold. Who used to pull up outside the dorm (I recall it being about five stories high) and honk for her to come out so they could drive off to Strawberry Point or Grundy Center or wherever they were from. In his pickup truck, before pickup trucks were cool. She left the following semester.

It was a lonely start, until I made friends, and made a move down the hall to live with more compatible friends. One, in fact, shared apartments and dorm rooms with me for the rest of our college career.

A quarter of a century later, I dropped our daughter Cathy off at college. She was 16. Rice University in the center of Houston. I was happy for her, I was glad she was there, and I cried all the way home on the airplane. What was I doing leaving her alone in such a big city?

It was easier when Chris went to college a few years later. The hardest part was going out to summer orientation, driving him through the cornfields of Iowa, past the hog farms and dairy herds, as he slept. Hoping against hope that he wouldn't wake up and realize that Iowa State was in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Seeing them leave for college was harder than, say, going to kindergarten.

Both had tramped off to Montessori Schools when they were just two. And both loved school. I never had the kindergarten trauma I've witnessed in some mothers left weeping at the school yard fence while their kids go into school for the first time. And, even luckier, my kids never cried about going to school.

Any many, many years, fall meant a new school in another city or town, as we moved and moved again. They never complained, and I thank them for that.

What does your fall mean this year? It's an important month, and a good time to focus on education, because Massachusetts is trying to make education a top priority. From pre-school through post graduate.

College tuitions are down; we have open enrollment at our community college with guaranteed enrollment in our four-year colleges if you meet the challenge and standards.

We have plans that allow high school students to take courses at our high schools. We're reaching out to more and more very young children who need an extra boost at the beginning of their school careers.

We have a long way to go. Costs are our public colleges are still too high, among the most costly in the nation. We obviously have to find some way to make our schools accountable for results after the billions we've pumped into the system through education reform.

We continue to wrestle with charter schools, school vouchers, teacher testing, tenure. And there are no easy answers.

But September sort of makes you focus on education. I'll continue next week.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll finally throw away that dress.

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