Monday, August 20, 2018

Thank you, Mrs. Ernestine.

My first word of advice when parents ask me about college choice is always -- always -- look more at the heart of the school than at the architecture.

My trio all chose old, well-established universities. They all chose schools that were built before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and small enough liberal arts colleges that big overhauls have not been made in accessibility.

Loudly, I want to proclaim that overhauls are necessary on all three campuses. There are things that need to be done -- physically, and policy-wise to make those campuses more accessible. Period. (And rest assured, all three are doing what they can to get awareness raised on their respective campuses.)

But today, I was reminded of just how right I am when I say the heart of the campus is the biggest thing. The very biggest thing.

Almost four years ago now, Mason and I visited Millsaps College for a Welcome Weekend event. He went to his information sessions and I went to the parent sessions. In one session, the speaker introduced himself with a myriad of titles but one -- Accessibility Director -- caught my attention. I sought this administrator out following the session to introduce myself. I told him about Mason and what he needed to be successful in college. I asked if Millsaps could provide these things. He assured me they could as we walked across the campus. When we ran into Mason, I was thrilled to introduce the two of them. And then promptly realized how different college-life would be, when the director looked Mason in the eye and asked:

"Mason, I know what your mother thinks you need to be successful in college. What do you think you need?"

It won't surprise you to know that Mason's list was only a fraction as long as mine had been.

That was the day Mason took ownership of his college career -- months before he actually moved onto campus.

Today, I was at Millsaps for the semester ritual of Mom and son going together to purchase his textbooks -- for our next to last time. My mother-heart was happy enough watching the mini-reunions with everyone we ran into in that bookstore. As he begins his senior year, it is so clear that Mason has  a community.

After paying for his books, I started making my way out of the student center only to be stopped by one of the custodial staff, Mrs. Ernestine. "Are you his Mother?" she asked, nodding her head towards Mason. I smiled and said that yes, I am. 

She returned my smile, "Everybody on this campus loves your boy," she said. "You don't have to worry about him. We are all looking out for him."

I thanked her -- and tried not to cry. She went on, "Come here. Look over there. He is surrounded by his friends. I told you everybody loves him. Now you go on and don't worry."

Mrs. Ernestine is part of the heart of that campus.

Last week, Mason called concerned about some construction fencing that was blocking his accessible path for his scooter. I urged him to stop by and talk to the head of security, a college friend of his dad's, John Conway.

Mason called me back in minutes. "Mom, Mr. Conway is already on it. He has a plan and has instructed the construction team to move the fencing to make a path for me. I didn't even need to ask for it."

John Conway is part of the heart of that campus.

Benjamin has similar stories with a dear lady, Mrs. Elle, on his campus. Mrs. Elle has stopped me on numerous occasions to assure me she can get the doors for Benjamin and I should go on. She worries about him when he doesn't stop for lunch and she is always there with a hug when I am on campus. Mrs. Elle works in multiple buildings on Belhaven's campus but she always seeks out Benjamin to say hello. She is part of the heart of that campus.

I talked to my girl today, too. Goodness, she doesn't need the accessibility, and yet she actively fights for it for those that do. I told her about my conversation with Mrs. Ernestine and she laughed and told me that she was walking to campus for the first time from her just-off-the-edge-of-campus-apartment and one of the security officers saw her and offered her a ride in his golf cart today. We laughed that even she is well taken care of on campus.

As my trio begin their senior year of college (SENIOR YEAR!!!), I have learned so much about college choices, campus accessibility, and the ability of my children to overcome and persevere. I am not going to sugar-coat it and pretend that all of it has been rosy. And I am keeping notes in an effort to help those who come behind us.

But we were spot on when we said the heart of these three schools was exactly what we were looking for.

Mrs. Ernestine was a perfect reminder.

Carol - The Blessings Counter