June 1, 2007

Graduation:  A Father’s Perspective

by Philip Poole,
Executive Director of Communications, Samford University

"... At our church’s graduate recognition that spring, Melissa introduced herself as the 'only graduate whose parents are going away to college with her'..."

Melissa Poole waits for her name to be calledAfter attending dozens of graduations as a higher education administrator, I could almost walk through them blind-folded.  It is important to make these events special for the graduates and their families, even when they may seem rote to the faculty and staff who attend them each semester.

But, last week’s commencement at Samford University was one I watched with particular pride.  Our first-born received her bachelor’s degree, and it was exciting and bittersweet to watch her cross the stage with diploma in hand.

We got to experience something that few parents enjoy – the opportunity to share our daughter’s college experience.  Just a few short years ago, we would not have expected that chance. 

As Melissa began to look seriously at colleges, her focus was on large state universities in Florida, where we lived at the time.  Her mom and I encouraged her to look at other options, but she did not appear too interested in private schools.  As part of a family trip through Birmingham in summer 2002, we insisted that she at least look at Samford University so that she could compare the private university setting with the large state university environment.  Mom and I were familiar with Samford because of our professional experiences in Baptist life and thought it would be a good fit for Melissa.

The folks at Samford were gracious and encouraging during that visit.  They welcomed Melissa, provided answers to many of her questions and sold her on the value of a Samford education.  Before our car could leave the campus, she was on her cell phone with friends in Florida, excitedly reporting “You HAVE to check out this place.  It’s great.  This is where I am going.”

Fast forward about 6 months.  Melissa had applied and been accepted to Samford.  She was enjoying her senior year of high school, and we were beginning the college search process with her sister, a high school junior.  One week after mailing Melissa’s housing deposit, I received an unexpected telephone call from Samford asking if I would consider talking with university officials about a new executive director of communications position.   

It took lots of family discussion before a decision was made.  We all were very happy in Florida, and we debated the question of uprooting our family yet again.  Melissa had the opportunity to say “No, I don’t want you to do this.”  She thought she was going eight hours away to college and now it appeared that mom and dad might be eight minutes away!  But, after lots of praying and talking, we decided it was the right thing.  At our church’s graduate recognition that spring, Melissa introduced herself as the “only graduate whose parents are going away to college with her.”

It’s been a wonderful experience, for the most part, for all three of us.  Mom and I got to know her friends and enjoyed having them in our home on many occasions. Melissa and I got to share some good experiences, like working on the university homecoming committee together.  And, there were days when dad embarrassed Melissa – albeit unintentionally. 

But, best of all, we got to watch Melissa grow and mature into a beautiful, self-confident, Christian.  And, with that degree in hand, she strolled very confidently into her first professional job the following Tuesday. 

Yes, it was bittersweet to watch our first-born graduate from Samford.  A part of us graduated, too, in a sense.  But, fortunately, we’ll get to enjoy our Samford parent role for two more years.  You see, Melissa’s sister decided she wanted the Samford experience, too, so she is transferring this summer from another university to complete her degree at Samford!

Samford may pay me to say positive things about the university, and I am glad to do so because I know first-hand as a parent what a wonderful place it can be.  And remember – Melissa chose Samford first.  That’s the decision that we celebrated at graduation.

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