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Parents’ Weekend

by Lionel E. Deimel



At last, I see the college of my son’s matriculation,

A nineteenth-century postcard of lawn and trees and brick buildings

Set about the old mansion-turned-academy—

Quite the ideal of a college.


I meet my son and tour his room.

His is a quaint dorm with curious turrets and fanciful window adornments.

The room is small and rather a mess—

Only partly the fault of the college.


We walk to class along the brick sidewalks and settle into a room with large tables and cane chairs,

A room much like my own college classrooms.

The discussion is much as I remember;

The classics have not changed much in thirty years.


We are on our own for lunch.

I expect a trip to a campus hangout,

But we go to the sort of place students usually cannot afford.

I pay, of course.


Another class to audit in the afternoon—

More serious formality.

This time, the discussion is inscrutable—

I never studied Greek.


Dinner in the dining hall is quite good,

Not the standard fare, I am assured, but the impress-the-parents menu.

I meet some of my son’s friends there—

An independent lot, except possibly for those with visiting parents.


The Friday night lecture disappoints expectations,

Though the post-lecture discussion makes it worthwhile.

We walk around campus after the formal program,

Exchanging ideas into the night.


Saturday begins with a Plato seminar;

I had been given the dialogue to read in advance.

Socrates had some strange ideas,

But so, too, do some parents.


Lunch is a buffet,

A good time to talk with other students and parents.

Parents have their pictures taken with their children—

Mementos for the mantle.


A meeting with the President and Deans follows—

A time to learn, but also a time to complain and advocate.

I have a word with the Assistant Dean at the end;

Perhaps it will make a difference.


I attend a discussion of Euclid’s premises, led by a nervous student unaware of my mathematical background.

In spite of myself, I quickly become the focus of discussion;

The student is relieved not to have to keep the conversation going.

My diagonalization proof fails to convince the senior I buttonhole after class.


The last event of the day is a reconstructed Greek dance,

A product of scholarship, collaboration, and much imagination.

It is hard not to be impressed, especially by the rhythm of the Greek verse,

A rhythm not usually captured in translation.


Dinner is another opportunity to visit an expensive restaurant.

This time, we do pizza.

The place feels more collegiate;

The bill is a pleasant surprise.


The Sunday schedule is light.

I watch the beginning of a fencing tournament before meeting my son.

We attend a pleasant brunch and tour the art gallery,

Discussing the college before taking our leave.


I review the weekend while driving the Interstate,

Listening to one NPR station after another.

The school is not perfect, nor my son the perfect student,

But he is in good hands. 


Leather-bound books


This poem draws on my experiences of Parents’ Weekend at St. John’s College in 2000 and 2001. Because I have no other experience of such events elsewhere—if the University of Chicago, where I attended college, had a Parents’ Weekend, I was unaware of it—I do not know if this poem will be of wide interest. I found that attendance helped me appreciate the nature of my son’s college experience, and I suspect that similar visits to other colleges, though different, accomplish the same thing. (Completed 11/27/2001.)

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