Growing up and giving praise

Going off to college is about breaking away from your family, right?

When my parents drove me to my campus eight hours away, I was excited to start practicing "adult" decisionmaking. But as I adjusted to my independence, it surprised me how much closer I became to my parents.

Suddenly my dad was sending newspaper clippings about gender issues because I told him about a women's studies course. And my mom - in between questions about what I was eating - was sharing more about how she had balanced her roles as feminist and wife and mother in the early 1970s.

Last week I heard about a women's college in Los Angeles that holds an annual mother-daughter tea in the spring and a father-daughter dance in the fall. Like any college, Mount St. Mary's encourages students to develop into independent thinkers and leaders, but the degree to which it nurtures students' family relationships struck me as unique.

Many of the school's students are the first in their families to attend college. Maria Lyons, the director of student activities who started the formal events 13 years ago, has been known to usher in parents who feel intimidated by the campus's Gothic-style Doheny Mansion.

But everyone feels at home by the time each student gives her "testimonial" - her thanks to a father, a mother, or another adult who was important in her formative years.

Before the tears flowed at last year's father-daughter dance, sophomore Irene Calbillo says she always saw her dad as "the tough one."

Lillian Arias says it was rare to be with just her father - no siblings tagging along. "I got to let him know how proud I am of him," she says. And he saw that "it takes hard work to be where we're standing."

These young women and their fathers were again among the 100 people at the sold-out event last Friday - dancing to "Butterfly Kisses" and keeping tissues at the ready.

I didn't have such a formal way to thank my parents for sending me to college, but I hope I've remembered to say it now and again, anyway.

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