Children Know Best

When my daughter graduates from Bryn Mawr this weekend, we'll be celebrating her diploma — and the journey that got her there

Six years, two countries and $200,000 after leaving high school, my daughter graduates from college this weekend.

Capped and gowned, she will receive her degree in psychology from Bryn Mawr, one of the few remaining all-women’s colleges in the United States. Unlike most of the student body, she lives off campus, with her longtime boyfriend, whom we adore. [SIGNUP]

She is bold, adventurous, unafraid of detours. I, on the other hand, would be happy if every piece of furniture were nailed to the floor.

When she told us she was taking a “gap year” between high school and college, I reacted as if she were volunteering to be abducted by pirates. Gap year? For my sibs and me, it was high school, college, graduate school. No stops — the pedagogical express train. Here she was, choosing the local.

Convinced she would never go to college, I tried for months to dissuade her. Get your degree first, I pleaded, and then set sail for parts unknown. So she went to Costa Rica for a year. Got a job, found an apartment, learned to scuba dive, and came back with a maturity and world view that can only be lived, not learned.

Now she can board that express train, I thought, finally able to exhale. Wrong again, Huckleberry. The year of total independence in a foreign country made for a miserable transition to a high-rise freshman dorm at another elite East Coast school, where getting shitfaced was the extracurricular activity of choice.

After gutting through the school year, she told us — surprise! — she was taking another year off, at home. The visions of pirates returned. Wrong yet again. She got a job — several, in fact — and applied as a transfer to several excellent schools. She chose Bryn Mawr. This time, it was a good fit. This time, she was on ‘til the end of the line.

Now, diploma in hand, she is about to start a full-time job at a psych lab at Penn. Then grad school, according to her plan. She is still bold and adventurous, and she has taught me an important lesson— the unexpected journey can lead you back to your original destination. And you are better for the detours.

GAIL SHISTER, TV columnist for the Inquirer for 25 years, teaches writing at Penn and is a columnist for She writes for The Philly Post on Tuesdays.