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Fall foliage frames the University of Virginia's Rotunda.
Fall foliage frames the University of Virginia's Rotunda.

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By Tom Shroder
Sunday, November 23, 2008

My wife and I recently drove the timeworn route between Virginia colleges with our son, a high-school senior. At each university we toured, I was struck by watching him and his peers, soon-to-be adults, walk the campus paths with parents in tow. I could tell that some of the "kids" -- possibly (likely?) including my son -- were embarrassed by the echoes of their childhoods, in the form of the parents hovering behind them.

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The fact was, this would be the first truly important decision that, within financial limits, many of these young men and women would make on their own. With that thought in my mind, the trudging parents began to look like atrophying appendages, soon to be shed. Which is as it should be. So, instead of focusing on the clever chatter of the amazingly self-confident student tour guides, I hung back and watched my son process it all.

It happened to be a peak-color fall weekend, and the Virginia campuses, breathtaking to begin with, were at their most alluring. The college students strolling so confidently around under bright blue skies practically shouted, "This could be you!"

So how was he going to choose? Would he discover a preference for brick over stone? Or perhaps he would calculate a slightly higher percentage of babes among those studying on blankets in the sun? When I questioned him on his thinking, he didn't mention statistics or course offerings or even the babes. He talked about how a place "felt." Of his top choice, he said, "I feel like I could belong there."

As his dad, my wish is that he would research and rationally examine the pros and cons of a school as it fits his aspirations and learning style. I wasn't really sure what to make of the "feel" factor.

Then I read the story by Patricia Meisol that begins on Page 8, about a medical student named Lesley Wojcik trying to decide if she would back up her passionate pro-choice philosophy by becoming an abortion provider. As a decision about the future, it makes selecting a college seem as portentous as choosing between cotton candy or candy apples. Yet, her story was instructive. Even though Wojcik had a high degree of rational and moral certainty that providing women with abortions was what she wanted to do, there was no way she could be sure until, as she put it, she "walked the walk."

Sometimes, even when struggling with far less momentous decisions, you just need to place yourself in the middle of your possible future and see if it feels like you belong there.

Tom Shroder can be reached at shrodert@washpost.com.


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