Graduation cap

Things to Think About as Your Senior Graduates from High School

by Ralph Broadwater, MD, CFP®, AIF®

My wife and I will become “empty nesters” this August when our younger son, Michael heads off to college. Long before I was even married I had tucked away a wise article that captured my thoughts about the importance of excellent college teachers in the development of young minds.

Dr. Deb DeRosa is the Emeritus Professor of Surgery and Education at Northwestern University. As one of the first professional educators in surgery, she has spent her life thinking about and studying teaching and mentorship. She wrote this piece many years ago and has kindly agreed to let me share it:

“I packed my first born off to college last week. Dorm rooms have not changed much since the 70s, but the college kids appear to be much younger than they used to be. I miss him terribly already, but it’s true that I now have only six loads of laundry per week instead of sixteen, and the grocery bills are cut in half. I have five hopes for Tim, five requests for the $20,000 plus expenditure:

1. That he is given the opportunity to learn in a positive environment.

College is a major adjustment from high school, even for the macho jock. I hope the faculty creates a positive and mutually supportive learning environment that enables Tim to test his ideas and think freely in a non-threatening, nonjudgmental place. I want them to encourage risk-taking so Tim and his peers aren’t discouraged from verbal problem-solving and thinking aloud. My hope is that the faculty members who teach his classes will make themselves available and approachable, treat him as a “fellow learner”, clarify their expectations, negotiate goals, and show some enthusiasm towards their subject, teaching, and their students. This would encourage self-confidence and initiative, establish mutual trust and respect, and promote independence and maturity.

2. That he receives positive and negative feedback.

10An important life skill for Tim is accurate self-assessment, and the ability to invite and accept both positive and negative feedback. He will need more than just test scores from paper and pencil tests to help him develop and grow personally and professionally.

3. That he hones his abilities to communicate, as well as think critically, creatively, and incisively.

The world is fraught with people who do not listen well, verbally express their thoughts clearly, or write convincingly-the tangible indication of an orderly and creative mind. I want Tim to eventually understand that he is in school to learn how to think for himself, and not just to repeat what the textbooks or teachers tell him. Tim must learn to write with clarity, creativity, and brevity. He must learn to organize and speak his thoughts projecting his message and own special personality with conviction and confidence, whether speaking to one or one thousand.

4. That he finds learning challenging and invigorating, yet fun and enjoyable.

My hope is that Tim’s teachers will challenge him to challenge himself when he is not already doing so. I would like for them to expose him to substantive skills and information that have carry-over value- so that he understands the relevance of something worth knowing in its own right or because it leads to further learning. Do not just lecture to him, even if you consider yourself the life of the podium. I lectured him for 18 years on everything from the importance of changing underwear daily in case of an auto accident to avoiding peer pressure, underage drinking, and belching in public. Hopefully there was some retention! But one can ensure higher retention if teachers enliven learning through the use of multiple teaching and learning methods that can connect with the learning needs of students with varying learning styles. I want Tim to take his schoolwork seriously, but himself lightly so as to achieve a healthy balance of experiences that cause anxiety to perform at full potential with experiences that yield laughter and lightheartedness.

5. That he develops at least one close friendship with a faculty member, hopefully more.

At this point in time, Tim is majoring in “undeclared”. Whether he chooses to become a butcher, a baker, or a professional educator, I am neutral, but I want him “turned on” by a mature mind. It is important for Tim to find at least one role model and mentor who will listen with intensity to his spoken and unspoken messages. A learned person who will recognize his uniqueness as an individual, encourage him to dream big dreams, and offer words of wisdom that do not come with formal education, but rather with age and experience.

Tim has critical personal responsibilities for his role in the learning process, and the above listed requests are not intended to minimize these, but rather complement them. Faculty members who see it as their role to help students develop intellectually and personally will have little hesitation in honoring these requests. To those who do, I wish for them advanced titles, increased salary, eternal tenure, truckloads of golden apple awards, and minimal committee appointments. No doubt the above reflects parents’ hopes for every Tim, Dick, and Mary attending college. It is an onerous and honorable responsibility to entrust to faculty members, but at least it won’t negatively impact their laundry loads or grocery bills.1


I plan to share Dr. DeRosa’s article with Michael, and have a discussion over lunch about what to look for in his college education, the importance of finding a mentor, and of doing his laundry.

1 Reprinted with permission Dr. Deb DeRosa.

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