Yesterday I was in our dining room (which isn’t so much a dining room anymore as a place to stockpile dorm supplies) when I stopped to take it all in: piles of towels, books, and cleaning supplies were stacked between a dorm refrigerator, a nightstand, and a giant, foam mattress pad. To say that chaos reigned supreme would be an understatement, but I also knew that in the next few weeks the piles would get higher, the boxes would multiply, and the pathway through the room would get even narrower; in other words, things would get worse before they got better.
And I was okay with that because these past few months, as we helped Jonathan maneuver through the college application process, we learned firsthand that things could get worse before they got better. We also learned that sometimes a journey wasn’t as straightforward as you had planned; that detours along the way muddled things; and that your final destination was not necessarily your initial destination.
Since forever, we’ve known that Jonathan wanted to attend UGA. With his excellent SAT scores (which were comparable to his brother’s who was accepted there for early admission) and with his better than average GPA, we figured it wasn’t so much a matter of him getting in as it was whether he would be accepted for early admission, or deferred until regular admission. Well, we figured wrong and he was denied. Outright. We were in total shock. Had there been something wrong with his application? Did they not receive everything? Did he not mention enough clubs, activities, community service projects? Did the fact that he had a job help or hinder his application?
And on top of everything, we felt vulnerable because we hadn’t fully explored any other options.
So . . . we were faced with a roadblock. Once we could think clearly again we realized the roadblock was really a crossroads, and we just needed to discern which road to now take: let UGA go and apply elsewhere, or appeal the decision and plead our case. But if we let it go, would that be giving up? Would we regret pursuing an appeal, or regret not having done so? Or maybe it would be wiser to switch gears and move in an entirely different direction? We had plenty of questions, but no answers. In the end, we decided to explore all options; we would appeal the decision using everything we had, and see where it took us.
So Jonathan obtained glowing letters of recommendation from his manager at work and his high school teachers. His uncle, who is a doctor practicing in Athens and who is also a member of the faculty at UGA, wrote the most heartfelt letter describing Jonathan’s character and strong work ethic. Even the past president of the University called down to the appeals office and expressed his support of Jonathan. Of course, nothing was guaranteed. And because the committee didn’t meet until sometime in June (the exact date was a secret), when Jonathan graduated from high school he still didn’t know where he would be going.
In the meantime, we had to proceed and commit to a Plan B. Early in the fall Jonathan had been accepted to several colleges, so we started taking a closer look at each one. Just in case. We visited campuses, and during one visit Jonathan found one he liked. A lot. But once we returned home Joe and I had some serious misgivings. I won’t go into them here, and I won’t even mention the university because we know some people who go there and like it, but we knew it wasn’t a good fit for us. Again, it wasn’t an easy decision mainly because Jonathan liked it and thus made our job as parents much harder as we stood on our principles and said no. So we kept looking.
By mid-June we were still playing the waiting game when I left for a 10-day trip to Italy. Then one evening I received a phone call from Joe who read me the letter from the review board stating that they had decided to uphold their original decision.
I’m not going to lie. I was angry (how could they?), frustrated (what more could we have done?), and I felt betrayed (after all, UGA was my alma mater). I was teary, worried about Jonathan ,and upset that I wasn’t there to talk to him. But as I paced that hotel lobby in Sorrento, I took a moment to consider something: here I was, vacationing in Italy, staying in one of the most picturesque towns on the Amalfi Coast, and wasn’t the world a big and beautiful place? It’s all right there at our fingertips – within our grasp – but we have to remember to see the bigger picture and not allow the confines of neighborhoods, cities, or even college campuses hold us back.
In other words, it was stupid – STUPID! – to place all our hopes and dreams on one little blip on a map.
So, the question: where was Jonathan going to college? Interestingly, GCSU (Georgia College and State University) was never on our radar and yet, today, here we are. And I must say that after all the uncertainty we’ve been through, touring that campus was the only moment of clarity we had during this entire process; in fact, when we arrived in Milledgeville for a campus tour, the bells from the only Catholic Church in town were ringing. A sign? I honestly don’t know, but I’ll take it. And we’re all in a good place. Jonathan has met his suite mates, he has his schedule, and while he still plans on transferring to UGA at some point, for this moment – right now – he is right where he needs to be.
I’m still not sure what these past several months have taught us (other than humility, flexibility, trust, perseverance), but we do know what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. There were so many times we had to surrender, pray, and continue on without seeing the road ahead which, for those like us (who like to put things in order, make lists, and map out plans), made the process messy and not how we would have chosen it to be.
J. R. R. Tolkien once said that all who wander are not lost, and we have learned this to be true, for no matter how many bends, switchbacks, road blocks, detours, and U-turns we encountered on the road we were still heading somewhere.
After all, every journey has a destination, whether or not we know where it is.