By contributing writer Jonathan Waisnor
I was in the middle of my sixth campus tour, listening to the artificially perky tour guide give yet another generic description of the ubiquitous Blue Light system:
“Push this button here, and campus police will arrive within 60 seconds, armed to the teeth with all manner of flashlights and pepper spray.”
I’m paraphrasing of course, but I could tell that’s exactly what the tour guide was thinking, when all of a sudden someone’s mother actually asked the question: “So these… Blue Lights, they’re… they’re all around campus, right?” No, I thought, just in this one spot, when all of sudden it hit me. I’d seen this person five times before. In fact, I’d seen most of these people around before. Like that guy taking pictures of the statues, or the mother desperately trying to calm her bawling baby while everyone around her winced in obvious pain but was too embarrassed to say anything.
Yes, it’s prime college touring season and the stereotypical, soon-to-be-abandoned parents are out in force. Summer and autumn are peak visiting times for most high school seniors thinking about college (anyone who doesn’t aspire to be a fry cook), and because the first impression you get of a campus includes the people in your tour group, I offer you my dissertation on “The Seven Parents You Will Meet on a Campus Tour.”
1. The Specialist
Appearance: Normal, except for the giant words on the back of the t-shirt reading something stupid like, “2006 Drama Guild Booster,” or “North Hadley Marching Band (Proud Parent).”
It could be worse if: There are two of them, and, like small children, they both need attention.
For the last time, we get it; you’re interested in the music program. Stop asking about it. It’s there, don’t worry, and I’m sure your 18-year-old with two semesters of high school marching band under her belt will love it until she drops out two weeks into first semester to join a sorority.
Closely related to the “Proud Parent,” the Specialists force their kids to join every insignificant club offered at their high school in the hopes that picking the right combination of activities will result in the ringing of a tiny bell, signaling the grand prize award: automatic admission with full scholarship. Eventually, no topic is too unrelated; this parent will find a way to ask a question linking the drama club to the co-op, or the ROTC to the new parking garage on South Campus. The poor tour guide, who’s never met anyone in the drama club or the ROTC, can only nod his head and recite the same tired line about “the diverse nature of student life and the wide variety of activities available here on campus.”
2. The Proud Parent
Appearance: Neatly-combed hair, clean shaven, with a polo shirt and khaki shorts.
It could be worse if: Their kid is actually as smart as they say.
Also known as “The Elitist,” the Proud Parent actually asks important and relevant questions, but insists on augmenting each statement with some neat little factoid about his kid that may or may not be true. This parent is constantly in deep, furtive discussion with his son or daughter about how this particular campus might not be “up to snuff,” or how they might want to “consider applying Brown or Yale, because this school just doesn’t seem to have the learning environment we’re looking for.”
Just so everyone listening knows that his kid has the highest SAT scores/GPA of anyone present, the Proud Parent will never fail to ask a question about the school’s honors program, despite the fact that anything you ever wanted or didn’t want to know about the honors program is in the free brochure available in the admissions office. Ironically, no matter how well-read, intelligent or successful this parent may be, he fails to realize that within a couple months of move-in day, his son or daughter will have transformed into a primal, unrecognizable creature whose only cares in the world are sleep, sex, beer, and a sizeable monthly allowance for “lost books.”
Occasionally, the Proud Parent will even carry a notebook around to record everything the tour guide says, then spend an inordinate amount of time completing the Tour Guide Evaluation survey, the equivalent of grading a robot on his stand-up comedy performance.
3. The Examiner
Appearance: Mustache, sunglasses, t-shirt and jean shorts.
It could be worse if: They’re retired CIA, FBI or some other branch of the armed services.
This guy’s innate sense of danger and keen eye for untruth have convinced him that there is something the tour guide isn’t telling him. Whether it’s faculty/student sex scandals, fraternity hazing deaths, wild orgies on the quad, or asbestos in the dorm rooms, this guy wants to know about it, and he doesn’t care how many questions he has to ask. Not only that, but the Examiner is on a personal vendetta to fool the tour guide, by any means necessary, into admitting that kids *gasp* drink alcohol and smoke marijuana on campus. This usually gets to the point where the Examiner feels a personal sense of satisfaction after the poor kid falls into his carefully orchestrated verbal trap.
Not surprisingly, this parent will often stop and question innocent passersby to obtain the “whole picture,” completely ignorant of the fact that every other person in the tour group is already fully aware of everything that goes on in school and has managed, somehow, to put it out of mind.
4. The Dumbass
Appearance: Normal dress. Hair color: Blonde.
It could be worse if: This is his/her first tour.
Not only does the Dumbass not know the first thing about college or campus life, he or she is too damn stupid to shut up about it and wait until arriving back home to look up the answer to whatever simple question he has online (assuming, of course, this Dumbass knows how to use a computer). Either this person never went to college, lives perpetually in the 1950’s, or spent most of his time in school strung out on LSD.
The Dumbass is amazed by coed dorms, communal bathrooms and the student union. Choices, including course selection and major declaration, confuse the Dumbass, as do sudden noises and bright flashes. Chronic hearing problems and/or memory loss is common, so expect the Dumbass to constantly ask the guide to repeat, verbatim, everything uttered within the last fifteen minutes. Approach at your own risk.
It is important to note that the Dumbass’s accent, which you probably thought was from one of those crazy Midwestern states with more cows than people, may actually be from a different country altogether. If this is indeed the case, please be patient. Remember, all foreigners live lives filled with chaos, depredation and persecution (unless of course, their native language is English) and should be coddled and catered to. Don’t hesitate to offer them a small bottle of water or a tasty snack (I’ve heard they’re partial to chocolate), and, of course, give them a pat on the head if they behave themselves.
5. The Wanderer
Appearance: Hiking gear, large travel backpack, complementary bottle of water in one hand, digital camera in the other.
It could be worse if: He left his map at the fountain.
The Wanderer will act and appear normal—that is, until the group stops. While the tour guide begins to explain some unimportant detail about campus life like, I don’t know, how to use your dining points to order dinner, the Wanderer will whip out the digital camera, head straight to the nearest statue or plaque and begin studying it intensely, only to realize five minutes later that the group has moved on.
The Wanderer is amazed by campus flora and fauna, the architectural style of the library, and the Poland Spring bottles with the college’s label on them. He will most likely spend freely at the school store for a bumper sticker or some other piece of trash that you can get for free after actually gaining admission to the university. Shaking the Wanderer is physically impossible—no matter how waylaid he gets staring at that new construction project or portrait of the dean, he always manages to find his way back to the group.
6. The Proud Alumnus
Appearance: Wears anything with the school logo on it, probably something he/she bought five minutes before the tour.
It could be worse if: He’s an ex-frat brother/athlete.
The Proud Alumnus will not shut up about how great it was to be in college at _________ University, and will comment frequently on even the most minuscule and obvious changes made to campus in the last quarter century or more since being at school. The Proud Alumnus is especially interested in tracing the end result of his annual $75 donation to the alumni fund (watch out if he gifted enough to have his name placed on a wall).
The Proud Alumnus will inquire regularly as to the whereabouts of his old professors, (most of whom are dead or retired), and insist on telling nostalgic stories to nearby groupmates at every stop the tour makes (woe to you if the residence hall you tour happens to have been his). He will often regale fellow visitors with tales about how the school was in “the good old days.” Ironically, he hasn’t been back to campus since graduating all those years ago. (On a personal note, Dad, the story about you spending most of your junior year in the dorm we visited because it was, wink wink, “your girlfriend’s” was totally inappropriate and in very poor taste.)
7. The Babysitter
Appearance: Normal—except for the loud, noisy, annoying 4-year-old kid flirting with steep flights of stairs and razor sharp objects.
It could be worse if: He/she just got off the highway after a 14-hour car ride from Podunk, South Dakota. Or if twins are involved.
You just had to bring the kid, didn’t you? One of you couldn’t stay home, take a few days off work or something and watch little Billy while your significant other toured campuses? Do we all have to listen to your toddler’s shit? Is the parent who has to stay home going to need marriage counseling or something if they’re not allowed to go?
The Babysitter turns college visits into week-long family excursions where one kid just wants the whole thing to end, the other can’t stop crying, and one or both parents are always nervously contemplating the gigantic check they’re going to have to write sooner or later. Let me tell you, these trips are boring as hell even if you’re applying to the school in question, so they must be torture for a child who’s not even old enough to write his own name and thinks a college is different pictures glued onto the same piece of paper.
On the other hand, the younger teenage son left at home alone to “watch the house while we’re gone” is probably passed out drunk on the couch while his friends use the living room rug for a toilet. Soon, he too will begin the hunt with his parents for a place to do this every weekend.