2017-05-17 / Editorials

Off to college

Other Voices
Mitch Clarke

My niece Hunter was seven when I moved to Gainesville, and I looked forward to being around to watch her and her brother, Tyler, grow up.

I thought she was excited about me being in town, too. I hadn’t been here but a few weeks when she invited me to come have lunch with her at her elementary school.

I found out later that I wasn’t that special. Hunter invited everyone to come to the school to have lunch with her, because she had learned how to play the system. Students who had visitors at lunch were able to sit at a special table and they didn’t have to follow all the lunchroom rules about talking.

Still, we had some good times during those lunches. I ate the cafeteria food, which really wasn’t bad. She brought the same lunch every day — PB&J, chips, yogurt and juice, which she ate in the same order every day.

A couple of years later, she changed schools and the invitations to lunch stopped. I can only assume there was no longer an advantage to having guests at lunch, so she just ate with her friends.

Hunter’s favorite word, especially when she was younger, was “like,” as in, “I have to, like, study tonight,” which was an insult to her journalism-trained uncle’s ear.

“You can’t do that to the English language,” I told her often. I occasionally would tease her about her use of “like.” Once, after watching her brother, Tyler, play baseball, I asked what her family was doing after the game.

“We’re going to, like, a restaurant,” she said.

“Are you going to a restaurant or to some place that is similar to a restaurant,” I replied.

She loved it when I would do that.

“You’re mean,” she said, repeating one of her favorite sayings.

For the last three or so years, Hunter has joined me, her father and a group of friends for our weekly trivia competition. She’s an important member. She’s knowledgeable about country music and current TV shows, and she’s usually pretty good at history and science, those things that a high school student would more recently have studied than older folks like me and her father.

Now, as hard as it is to believe, Hunter is about to reach a major milestone in her life. She graduates from Lakeview Academy on Saturday and then prepares to move on to the next phase of her life. I’m not sure who is going to have a tougher time this fall, Hunter or her father.

In August, Hunter heads west to Stillwater, Okla., and Oklahoma State University, where she will study to become a commercial pilot.

She hasn’t asked me for my advice. But no one in my family generally waits to be asked, anyway, so here goes.

I want her to study hard to so she can achieve all her goals. That’s most important. But there’s so much more to college than just classes and grades. I want her to enjoy the whole college experience.

I want her to soak it all in. Go to football games. Stay up late with friends. Take road trips. Get involved in activities and groups that expand her way of thinking about things. Have fun. Because the Real World — and all the hassles that come with it — will come along soon enough.

I hope she knows how proud I am of the beautiful, young women she’s become. And I hope she’s able to achieve all of her goals.

Because one day, I might need a, like, pilot.

Mitch Clarke, a native of Blakely, is the editor of AccessWDUN.com in Gainesville. He can be contacted at mitch.clarke@gmail.com. Read previous columns at www.accesswdun.com/blog/mitch.

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