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Growing through the years: Debbie Pitcher

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MAY 27, 2016

Editor’s note: A parent’s perspective on Cal Student Orientation.

Michelle had worked so hard for that day, for this future. It was time for her to get ready to move far away — to my home state of California, to the school where Uncle Don taught, to where history was and is still being made. Though I worried about her stress and safety, I reminded myself when it came time for orientation that this is my daughter: she is prepared to take on the world.

It’s hard to explain all that I was feeling as she packed up her things and prepared to venture out — very proud, but also sad, lonely, happy, wistful and a maybe a bit jealous.

I knew here were so many things she would enjoy, like eating meals in the cafeterias, working on her Berkeley Butt walking up the hills, laughing at the parents trying to figure things out and enjoying the beautiful weather.

I went with my daughter to orientation, attending the parallel parent programming while she was off learning how to navigate the online class selection tools. The day after we arrived in town, it was time to register — Michelle took off with peers and I went to the parent orientation area.

Later on, we separated into groups with strangers who became good friends during the trip, and were led on a campus tour that included myriad confusing buildings and classrooms. I loved the beautiful grounds and the tree shaded paths, and the classrooms reminded me of my grandma’s old house with its stucco and chalkboard decorating style.

I remember going into a room with a UC Berkeley professor and the biggest chalkboard I’d ever seen. A teacher myself, I imagined standing in front of the classroom, dressed in my customary black outfit with splashes of color and tons of chalk and dry-erase residue as evidence that I rolled around in dust all day long. The professor, who was really entertaining, answered a lot of my questions — so many that my fellow attendees were giving me dirty looks. I felt like the kid who asks for homework right before the bell rings.

The other parents and I sobbed and laughed while sharing our stories, worries and hopes. We participated in team building exercises, which were incredibly awkward at first but became much less so when we “hit the town” and had a couple (or more) drinks at a local bar.

The orientation ended with an assembly, where the band, dressed in funny hats, burst into the dark auditorium playing the University of California fight song. I found myself on my feet, clapping with the crowd. I was reunited with Michelle and was able, along with the other parents, to show off our cool C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A cheer with perfection. I beamed as students cheered loudly. My pride was short-lived after the students had their chance to cheer, but it was so much fun. I almost felt like a Golden Bear myself!

That was more than three years ago. In many ways, the orientation helped me look forward to meeting the woman my daughter would become. If anyone was ready to leave, it was Michelle. I was the one needing the extra support. I recommend any parent, especially those with separation anxiety, make every effort to attend CalSO.

Michelle has grown and thrived at UC Berkeley, still creating her own path and enjoying new adventures daily. As for vicariously enjoying her college experience, all I really know is what Facebook pictures convey and what I read in the Daily Cal. Even then, I have absolutely no regret about letting her go so far away — except for the fact I miss her every day, now with a smile.


Debbie Pitcher is a UC Berkeley parent.

MAY 27, 2016