Western Washington University here in Bellingham welcomed back its 14,000 students this week as classes for the fall quarter got underway. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff, led by WWU President Sabah Randwana, walked together from the hilltop campus to downtown for the Paint B’Ham Blue celebration, now in its second year. But before the evening procession, students and parents went through their own ritual of saying good-by to one another.
A week or two earlier, I watched as my neighbor’s son packed his car up to head back to college and as his parents followed as he pulled out the drive, his mother, camera in hand, snapping a few last photos as he drove off. I was enjoying the moment and reliving in my own mind the same experience when my own sons left home and I said good-by knowing that life at home would never be the same.
Like my neighbors, I too snapped photos of my sons as they either packed up, unpacked or departed for their years away at college. With each one, the last good-by was a little different and full of mixed emotions. I’m sure those of you who’ve had children can vividly recall that day of departure, whether it was heading off to college or to living on their own.
I’m glad to have the photos I took on those memorable days. When I look back at them, the memories come rushing back as fresh as the day it happened. Those snapshots give me a tangible tie to that moment in time and I was heartened to see my neighbor going through the same motions that I had gone through 10 years ago. I first wrote about those good-byes four years ago in my blog post “Autumn’s First Day Moves In.”
No doubt my sons were a little embarrassed by their mother clicking away when they arrived on campus although I certainly was not alone in insisting I take one more photo before leaving them. It is heartening to me to see parents still repeating those same actions, capturing images, now on their phones as well as with cameras, so that they’ll have them to look back upon later. I hope they download and print out these precious memories so that they’ll truly have them forever and not lose them to a mishap with the ‘cloud’ or computer or phone. If they do, they’ll have them for their sons or daughters long after college graduation.
I am grateful to my sons who allowed me, and continue to allow me, to photograph them during these life events and everyday moments, particularly at times when it might not otherwise have seemed ‘cool’ to do so.
Every fall, when I watch the new students and their parents arrive at the neighboring university, their cars pulling one after another into the dormitory parking lots, the boxes and duffles and suitcases being carried up to the rooms where they will live for the next several months, I am genuinely pleased as parents pose their freshman for one last parting shot so that they too will have the image to reflect upon when they go home alone. The scene brings a small smile to my face, a tiny tear to my eye and the tug on my heart.