Powell BuildingOffice of the President

On the empty nest

Four years ago, I wrote a column for this magazine about the experience of enrolling our older daughter, Callie, in college. The parents of the Elon Class of 2007 and I have shared some very personal experiences over the last four years –– hearing of our children’s hard work, triumphs and disappointments from a distance; observing great personal growth and independence; and watching their unique futures unfold. We can hardly believe commencement will be upon us this spring. Show me your best final-tuition-check dance moves in May, and I’ll show you mine.

Lambert familyThis past fall, my wife, Laurie, and I took our younger daughter, Mollie, to college. I often reminded Mollie that before she was born, her older sister had enjoyed three years of her parents’ undivided attention. So it was only fair that Mollie should have her undivided-attention years during her final three years of high school. In response, she would roll her eyes and murmur something that sounded like “Lord, help me.” Needless to say, she was looking forward to flying the coop.

Sending our younger child off to college was not any easier. The pilgrimages to Lowe’s, Kmart and Target provided welcome distraction from the impending reality of saying goodbye, but the final moment came too quickly anyway. Laurie had steeled herself not to cry. And I have never had a bigger lump in my throat or a harder time releasing a hug. It was a long three-and-a-half-hour ride home, with long silences and many reaches for a hand to hold.

Maynard House, the president’s residence, is not your typical empty nest. There is a stream of receptions, luncheons, dinner parties, overnight guests and student teas. But even in a big and lively house, there is a different rhythm without our own children’s daily presence. A new chapter is upon us.

In middle age, the pace of big life events, both sad and happy, seems to accelerate, calling us to adapt and accept and love in new ways. My dad passed away this past September. Last month our family shared the happiness of seeing tears of joy fall down Callie’s cheeks after she accepted a proposal of marriage from her long-time sweetheart. Change abounds.

In my work at Elon, I am privileged to watch wonderful young men and women develop into fully formed adults and share in the creation of a special community in which they will grow in wisdom, knowledge, confidence, faith and strength. That I have had the special privilege of being a parent to my daughters in their college years has given me insight into university education from a fresh perspective, and I am grateful to my two tutors. I am a lucky fellow.

Leo M. Lambert