I want to share a slightly edited portion of a letter my friend Scott Raecker wrote to his daughter Emily on sending her off to college:
My Dear Emily,
My life changed the day we found out that you were on your way. From that moment forward, you have been on my mind and heart – every day.
I vividly remember driving you home from the hospital. I was incredibly nervous with this great awareness: I was in control and it was my responsibility to protect you from the dangers of the world.
Now, as you go off to college, I am still nervous. The dangers of the world are still out there, but I don’t have the same control, and the responsibility for your safety is more yours than mine.
When I hug you goodbye on move-in day, I may not be able to say all I want to. I want to be sure you know I love you. I am proud of you. I believe in you. I know you are ready for this next stage of your life.
Your mom and I have watched you grow into your own person, and we trust you to make good choices (though we expect that you will make some mistakes and that from these you will grow).
The rest of your life will not be the next four years – but the next four years will have a significant impact on the rest of your life. So work hard, dream big, make good decisions – and have fun! Let your values, your faith, and your character guide you and never doubt that your mom and I will always love you and be proud of you.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.
Here is a more complete, unedited excerpt version of Scott’s letter:
My Dear Emily
My life changed the day we found out that you were on your way. From that moment forward you have been on my mind and heart – every day. And while mom did the hard work to bring you into this world – I have been emotionally engaged every step of the way. The day you were born was one of the great joys of my life. I remember your mom and I both saying, “Thank you, God!”
One of the things I vividly remember about your birth and the days that followed was driving you and mom home from the hospital. I was so incredibly nervous driving you home – both hands gripping the wheel (white knuckle), looking in every mirror constantly, with this great awareness that any accident could cause you harm – and it was my control and responsibility that would get you home safe from the dangers of the world. I’m not kidding – it was nerve-wracking.
And also a good analogy of the life changing sequence we are about to go through. The dangers of the world are still out there – and I have been working to give up control and responsibility to protect you. In fact, you are well prepared to take the lead now – and we should both be mindful of one of your favorite songs – “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
As you go off to college your life will never be the same – neither will our relationship.
Both will probably take some time to adjust – and we will do that together and we will do it well.
When I hug you goodbye on move-in day these are the things I want to say to you and won’t be able to get out.
I love you. I am proud of you. I believe in you. You are a beautiful person inside and out.
I know you are ready for this next stage of your life, and there are a few things I want to share with you – things you already know – but I will share nonetheless.
* * *
Your mom and I have done our best to help you grow into your own person. We trust you to make good decisions on your own (you may need to remind me of this from time to time) – and expect that some mistakes will be made along the way – and from these you will grow. The consequences from both good decisions and mistakes will be yours to enjoy and sort through.
The rest of your life will not be the next four years – but the next four years will have a significant impact on the rest of your life as you develop your own network of friends – and credentials (as Dean Bloom says) – that will guide the path in store for you. Only you can write your autobiography – and these first 18 years will be a very short Chapter 1 in comparison to what you start writing from this point forward.
A couple of thoughts for you.
College is hard. Go to class. Be prepared for class. Study. Develop relationships with the faculty and have a go-to faculty contact. Take advantage of resources. Ask questions – all questions are good. You will have obstacles – your attitude in how you overcome them will be important – obstacles are good things – and YOU can resolve them and learn from them. You are smart and a hard worker who can compete with the best – and there will be smarter people than you – and harder workers – don’t be intimidated. Surround yourself with good people. Minimize drama in your life and don’t bring it upon yourself. Seek opportunities to be involved and take advantage of them. Step out of your comfort zone. Academic responsibility rests with you.
Alcohol, controlled substances, sex – you will have new opportunities – make choices in alignment with your character and your life will not take unexpected detours. Social responsibility rests with you.
You will experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in the next several years – this will prepare you for the rest of your life. Keep the highs and lows in perspective and balance. Take a deep breath and relax – everything works out.
Stress, anxiety, and even depression, will be natural emotions you will experience. When needed – ALWAYS seek help in appropriate places with appropriate people – and remember that among others, your mom and I will always be appropriate people.
You went to self-defense class for a reason – think safe to be safe.
I would expect you are feeling some of the same range of emotions I have – excited and nervous as well as hopeful and fearful. That is ok and to be expected.
The Six Pillars of Character are not just words for a wall or to memorize – they are a “go-to” code of principles that are an exceptional tool as a guide in how to live life. Use them as a guide when you are making decisions. They are more important to you now than any other time in your life. And in this I speak from experience.
Seek excellence in all you do: think outside the box, identify and manage your priorities, seek a healthy life balance, make excellence your goal, establish productive and positive relationships, serve a cause greater than yourself, and know yourself and your go-to ethical code.
In this world – no one loves you more that your mother and me – and our love is unconditional – don’t ever forget this and use it to your advantage. You will find no better “go-to people” than the two of us.
We have done our absolute best to prepare you well for this moment in your life. Your time is now. Make the most of the opportunities ahead and your significance in this world will be assured.
You are a woman of strong and growing faith. Continue your faith journey in ways that allow you to grow – you know how much your mother and I love you – God loves you more – believe it!
Work hard, dream big, make good decisions – and have fun!
Know my joy in this moment for you. I love you. I am proud of you. I always will be.
Keep the Faith
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