A Grand Tour

I have worked nearly half my career in higher education, and along the way I’ve attended numerous first-year orientations, graduations, and class reunions.

an abstract illustration of Emory's main campus
I’ve sat in on a multitude of university lectures and research labs. I’ve eaten in student dining halls, watched sporting events, and once got to don a mascot costume for a few hours.

But this fall I experienced a first: a college admission visit and campus tour.

The occasion wasn’t for work, however. It was instead for my sixteen-year-old daughter Isabel, a high school junior who had just started her college search.

She is no stranger to universities. Through the years, my daughter has hung out at my office often, and she’s attended a host of college summer camps. However, she hadn’t yet had the chance to get to know Emory well. As we drove into campus, Isabel told me she thought the university was primarily focused on health care; she conflated its well-known professional programs and Emory medical system with its undergraduate experience. I couldn’t wait for her to see the bigger picture.

On our walk from the parking garage to the admission lecture, she pointed out all the get-out-the-vote signs planted by students around campus. Isabel boasts strong political convictions, and these totems of activism made her very happy. As did the abundance of recycling and composting bins. It also didn’t hurt that we took the tour on a crisp, sunny, beautiful Saturday morning in October. The Quad’s canopy of trees had started to show off their autumn colors while the walkways remained an almost clean slate as students took advantage of precious weekend slumber.

At the lecture, which was highly informative, Isabel raised her hand emphatically during the Q&A and asked the very first question: What’s the typical daily class schedule for students? My daughter is often shy, so I was somewhat surprised that she bore no qualms about speaking up in front of a large crowd. The answer was better than hoped as she found out she didn’t have to sign up for early morning classes if she didn’t want to.

As we broke up into smaller groups for the tour, I let Isabel stay up front and close to our cheery, knowledgeable student guide while I brought up the rear guard. I wanted her to be able to enjoy the tour on her own, unbothered by my asides and never-ending supply of dad jokes. I couldn’t help noticing the spring in her step as she took everything in—the campus sights, the stories, the possible future. Stepping back also let me regard her in this special mo-ment as she imagined herself one day navigating a college campus by herself.

Afterward, during lunch at Community Q—our favorite place to get brisket and mac-and-cheese—Isabel was partic-ularly chatty, so I asked what she thought about Emory. She was surprised at what a good fit the university was for her, ticking off a lot of important boxes on her list: academic excellence, liberal arts focus, small class sizes, the opportu-nity to spend her first two years exploring different fields, a diverse and inclusive community, and a gorgeous campus.

I could see myself here, my daughter told me. It feels like a place I could belong.

And for maybe the first time in the nearly three years I’ve been at Emory—mainly due to the pandemic and spending most of my time working remotely—I realized the same thing. I felt like I belonged here. For some of the same reasons my daughter mentioned, but also many more.

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