Last week’s break was badly needed in itself, but it also served a second purpose. While we headed west to disconnect for a while, we also included the first in-person college tour for The Girl, at the University of Pittsburgh.
She will be a senior this fall, so the college search is kicking into gear. She has done a bunch of virtual tours, but with a break in the COVID clouds, we were finally able to do an in-person tour.
Although I’m around her every day, sometimes I forget just how smart TG actually is. She’s obviously bright in the ways that obviously bright people are, but she also has a wisdom that finds its way out if you listen long enough. Long car rides provide just such an opportunity.
The tour itself was helpful. In contrast to a few years ago when TB did his tours, this one didn’t start with a large-group information session. (I’m guessing that was a function of social distancing.) Instead, we skipped directly to touring with a small group and a guide who walked backward the entire time. The original rules were that each prospective student could only bring one guest, so I volunteered to sojourn at a Starbucks while TW and TG toured, since I had seen it a few years ago with TB. But the morning of the tour, we got an email saying that they had raised the cap, so we could all join.
Most of the walking was outside, but we did get to visit the Cathedral of Learning, which is the skyscraper on campus. Externally, it resembles either the Empire State Building or Moscow State University; inside, the main lobby mostly looks like Hogwarts. The guide was a good sport, offering relatively generic information in an upbeat way. But you don’t take tours for information you could glean from a website; you take tours to get the feel of the place.
I noticed (again) how bustling the area is. It’s walkable, and the Pitt student IDs work as bus passes for the local mass transit. The larger city is hilly and a beast to navigate, so I was heartened to see that a car wouldn’t be necessary. (Score one for the tour guide who mentioned that at holidays, the university hires chartered buses to get students to Philly, NYC, etc.) The neighborhood felt like a cross between Charlottesville and New Brunswick, with the liveliness of the former and some of the grit of the latter. That’s not a bad thing.
A couple of days later, TG let me know the impression it had made on her:
“It’s funny. Until the tour, I thought of College Me as a much older and more sophisticated version of High School Me. I’d be surrounded by college students, who would also be older and more sophisticated. But walking around, I realized that, no, I’d still be myself. The college students would be the same age as me. I’d still have all the same … stuff … I have now.”
I responded by quoting Buckaroo Banzai: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
She laughed, and said, “Exactly!”
For an almost 17-year-old, I think that’s pretty impressive.
She had already taken a half dozen or so virtual tours by that point, none of which affected her much. (“They’re all the same!”) But actually walking around the place made it feel real and helped her picture herself there.
It also gave a baseline against which to compare other places. When I asked whether she liked the Pitt campus, she offered some more wisdom: “It’s a college town; of course I like it. I want to see how it compares to other places.” OK, then.
I had hoped that the tour would help her get a sense of place. It didn’t occur to me that it would help her get a sense of herself. The next college has a tough act to follow.
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