Words to inspire students and parents on the ‘launch’ to college

The topic was predictable — its message not.

Perseverance was the NCAA wrestling champion’s subject for the evening as he addressed the room of athletes and their families at the 38th annual Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic, Pennsylvania’s “Rose Bowl” of wrestling that, this year, invited Maryland all-stars to attend.

Jarrod King, the speaker, had more than his share of adversities, including four shoulder surgeries and a knee infection that left him in bed for seven weeks during the season.

Nevertheless, he prevailed and became a NCAA champ for Edinboro University (Pa.). Yet the most revealing part of his story was the advice given to him by his coach.

“I’m not going to be surprised when you win a NCAA title,” his coach told him during a 6 a.m. solo workout.

“Don’t be a surprise,” King heard him say and repeated to the group. Work hard. Work more. Show your work and let your work show, he advised. Expect to succeed and others will expect it of you, too.


“Don’t be a surprise.”

Granted, hard work doesn’t assure winning, but it’s hard to win without it. If we’re honest, however, we have to admit it’s tough to count on that causal relationship — that hard work always pays off.

If only life were that linear.

Surprises abound. Top seeds lose. Wild cards win. We drop the ball, miss the shot, lose the match — or simply fall short of our expectations.

It’s that time of year when expectations run high. College letters come rolling in — some thick with acceptance, others thin with regret. Rarely do we get exactly what we expect.

My father’s similar advice came from a different direction.

“Be ready for that ball, kids,” he would say as he coached us in our weekend basketball games. “Always be disappointed, never surprised.”

Be prepared, always be ready for the opportunity, he was teaching.

But have we done the same for our kids? Are they prepared to launch?

In her recent Transition to College presentation at St. Paul’s School, Michele Kriebel reminded seniors and their parents of the challenges they will face as their sons “step away from the parents.” In this next stage of their lives, their “identity development,” they must transition academically and socially, and take responsibility for themselves as they learn to handle their new freedoms — and yes, manage meals and laundry.

“It’s a clean slate,” said one parent of a recently-launched kid to college. “You can step away from your high school history, too, and totally reinvent yourself if you like.”

And as a parent, that is exciting — and scary. The truth is, we have been watching our kids morph by the minute ever since that day they changed our lives and entered our world.

Robin Webster, St. Paul’s school administrative assistant to the Upper School Head, has a bird’s eye view of the high school transformation.

“They are needy in ninth grade; disappear in 10th — they know everything and if they don’t they won’t ask. They start drifting back in 11th but it’s matter-of-factly … and on their terms. Senior year is the best — they know they’re leaving and we become really good friends; joking, talking about sports, the weekend, etc. It’s my favorite year.”

Mine, too, I must admit.

But launches await. We hope we have given them what it takes to make this transition — deep roots, strong wings, and that adaptive determined nature needed to persevere.

And when they succeed beyond our expectations — we won’t be surprised.

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.