Last evening, back from a movie, I was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a cup of tea. When the phone rang I thought it might be one of my sons, but it was another mother’s child.

The young lady, calling from Georgia (the state, not the country), said someone had recommended she contact Parents Forum for advice on getting in to college. I never saw that coming! We had a fascinating conversation – despite the tinny sound, she was on a cell phone – as I wracked my brain for advice or encouragement to give her . . . YearUp . . . City Year ? She had been in touch with the former and said it didn’t work out. The second was new to her. She looked it up online while we were talking and said she would contact City Year.

Almost an afterthought, I asked if either of her parents had been to college. She said no. I recalled the campaign at MIT designed to encourage students who are first in their family to attend college. Such students have a much harder time and significantly higher drop out rate than those whose parents are college grads.  I urged her, then, to look for a school with a support program for first-generation college students.

It got me thinking, what is the essence of college experience? and, perhaps more important, what essential encouragement do parents offer children that help them succeed in pursuing higher education? I told Antonica –I think that was her name, the line was tinny, as I said– that she deserved to tell her story, express her opinion, contribute to public dialogue on any issue she thought important. Is that what makes the difference? When I asked about her interests, she said veterinary science, not something I know anything about!

I thanked her sincerely for the New Year’s Day gift of her call! I got to be, briefly, the mother of a 20-year-old young woman. I urged her to keep knocking on doors, keep making ‘cold calls’ …like the one she made to me… and not give up on her dream of getting a college diploma. I asked her to call me back in a week.

If we listen attentively to our children, perhaps one key thing they learn is simply that they deserve to be listened to. In Parents Forum, of course, we listen to each other, as parents, so that we have reserves of listening to share with our kids.