About friends, and leaving for college

This is the month of separation for families across America as tens of thousands of teen-agers make their first big leap toward the world where adults live, work, and play. It’s move-in time on the country’s campuses, a time fraught with anxiety for some, students and parents alike, and a time bright with positive anticipation for others.

Last Saturday my third son (of four), with help from two of his brothers, decamped for a freshman dormitory at Stonehill College some 25 miles from the town where he has done most of his living to date. Nick had been looking to this day for months with an eagerness that was beyond palpable, and a conviction that everything would play out the way it should. The nest he was leaving behind in his hometown had become too small.

All of which hardly makes him unique. Still, the young men and women who are beginning a new life at college and away from home during these late summertime weeks are leaving behind things that are uniquely special to them: the loving, daily embrace of tight-knit family, perhaps; or the positive sense of self, pride, and accomplishment that a fine high school provided them; a boyfriend or girlfriend staying behind or heading for a different place; a part-time job that was a perfect fit. It will take time to reconcile all of this with their early college days and nights.

Some 50 years ago, it was very different for me and my closest friends. We lived in Dorchester, Boston’s largest neighborhood, a place filled to the brim with two-family and three-family homes. We were the Shamrocks, a dozen or so teens whose shared experiences were timeless – and the same as that of Nick and his buddies a half-century later: school days and sports at the local playground and dances and day trips and working and just hanging out.

What was different was that most of us didn’t leave home to go to college; we commuted, by car or public transit, to places like Boston College, Northeastern, Stonehill, and we came home every day and mostly stayed home on weekends to work or study. Some of us didn’t go to college, choosing work locally or going into the service via a sign-up or “the draft,” a staple in our day. In the broadest sense, then, there was little separation among us after high school; friendships were maintained through continued contact even as wedding bells and faraway jobs loosened the bonds over time. But they weren’t untied. The Dorchester Days connection has lived on, at baptisms and weddings (and funerals, of parents and peers), at regular dinners, golf outings, sporting events, at vacation homes, poker games, and parades. All of this means keeping up with old pals and paying attention to what’s going on at our youth-time hangouts.

My life continues to be enriched by the love and affection and companionship I share with many of the friends who grew up alongside me, hitting the same bumps as I did, and always being there when it counted. I hope that Nick, who won’t be coming home every day and every weekend to be with his own home-town team of close friends, will work at tending their shared bonds as they all step up to lives beyond the town they share.