“My Daughter Does Not Wear A College Sweatshirt”

On May 1 — “Decision Day” — many Staples High seniors wore college sweatshirts to school. Brown, UConn, Michigan, Elon, Middlebury, NYU … everyone, it seemed, wanted to share with everyone else the place where they’ll (hopefully) spend the next 4 years.

Well, almost everyone.

A mother writes:

My daughter isn’t wearing a sweatshirt for a university — because she isn’t going to one.

Her decision day happened a year or so ago. Through a lot of tears, she told me she wasn’t ready to go to college. And she knew that in a year she wasn’t going to be ready either.

Since then I’ve talked to friends, relatives and strangers. I’ve had to let them know that my daughter wasn’t headed toward a stripper pole, just because she wasn’t going directly to college. 

My daughter has no idea what she wants to do. She’s 18. She has no children to feed, or debt to humanity to repay before her clock runs out.

The rush to the finish line is not one I’ve put before her. I don’t know if one even exists.

As she watches her friends and classmates go off into their lives at schools across the country, she remains resolute in her decision that her time will come.

But it’s not now. I sometimes see a little sadness in her eyes. But since forever, she has known herself.

Friends sent me texts. They acted as if I were someone who didn’t know the options, and that it was my decision to keep her out of college. They threw out lifelines to try to save us, not realizing there’s a level of depth and thought behind my daughter’s decision.

At 16 she saw the tension and stress of her classmates. She saw the harried decisions to find a path that didn’t fit with her.

So she talked to me, and told me her truth.

We don’t know what’s to come. She wants to work, learn something more about the world, and figure out who she is right now. Her path may not end in a degree in 4 years. But it will be one of value and worth.

To all of our children — those who are going to college, to trade school, into the military, working, or staying home — please know that you are valued and strong.

Your worth is not your accomplishments in these short years you’ve been here.

There is much more to come.

47 responses to ““My Daughter Does Not Wear A College Sweatshirt”

  1. Sue Iseman

    Warm wishes to you and your daughter. Knowing one’s self at that age and her remarkable decision is an accomplishment in itself.

  2. Joanne Romano-Csonka

    Excellent!!! This is a must read!! Not every kid wants or is ready for
    college. There’s nothing wrong with
    A good old fashion work ethic.
    And kudos to mom for getting it!!

    Parents need to encourage kids
    To find the right path, not expect them
    To choose one their parents

  3. I love this!

  4. Nathalie Fonteyne

    This is a testament to the strong and open relationship between you and your daughter. Kudos to both of you. It takes a strong person to swim against the current. Thanks for sharing your journey and this very timely reminder that we all develop in our own way.

  5. Peter Saverine

    Your daughter’s decision, coupled with your support, is mature, reasoned and laudable.
    There are many doors to her future and many she’ll pass through before she knows she is where she belongs. Working with several non profits I have enjoyed meeting many of these bright young people
    who enter as volunteers and find a path to
    unleash their passion, creativity and gift to
    the world. Rather than waiting four years to find themselves, they start right away in creating their own map. As long as they get up everyday and do something good for themselves and others …and
    keep facing forward…their journey will be great.
    Life is the best teacher and the people we meet
    are the best mentors if we take the time to hear
    their stories.
    I hope she enjoys her walk along the road less traveled and shares her knowledge with those whose parents and peer pressure GPS made them miss that alternative route to a good life.

  6. Kathy Lanning

    As a 1969 Staples graduate who took a non-traditional path and and parent of 2 millenials, I see the value in supporting what our family calls ‘the young adult journey’

  7. Kathryn Spaeth Zajac

    Great post. Congratulations to your daughter for the depth of her commitment and strength to making a difficult choice that is contrarian to societal sea around us. Impressive. When she is ready there will be so many options available to her no matter the final decision.

  8. Susan Reilly

    Love this article!! Good for the daughter-and her mom! Sounds like she’ll figure it out when the time is right. Everyone grows and learns differently and at different paces. I applaud them both for recognizing this. Sounds like it was a thoughtful decision. I wish her well.

  9. Maria Funicello

    If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
    Henry David Thoreau
    My son didn’t go to college followed his dream, today he owns a very successful business. Congratulations to you both!

  10. Roberta Tager

    Beautiful, refreshing and healthy‼️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️😊❤️🎈

  11. Fred Cantor

    Your daughter sounds very wise to me. And I have long firmly believed that college is not necessarily the best path for everyone. Whether it is or not for your daughter, she at least is carefully weighing that decision.

  12. Ilene Mirkine

    Thank you for sharing this, Dan. This young woman is making an excellent choice now, and will figure out her path in due time. (I hope she knows that all of her classmates who are off to college may have significant changes in their paths along the way…) Good luck to all of the graduates in their first steps out of High School!

  13. Amy Chatterjee

    Thank you Dan! What an amazingly refreshing post to share. I’ve been a college counselor for 18 years and can’t tell you how many students I’ve met who weren’t ready for college or wanted a different path for their life. Most terrified to have this conversation with their parents. I loved reading this insightful mother’s words and it’s clear she knows that her success as parent us not measured by the college sticker on the back of her car window. I pray that others in our community can follow her lead. Thank you!

  14. Amy Saperstein

    That is great that your daughter is making this choice! Best of luck!

  15. Diederik van Renesse

    Wonderful story Dan. I hope that not feeling all that pressure to apply to colleges gave the daughter the time to enjoy her Junior and Senior years of high school and the courage to explore life’s many options outside of the academic world. Nice that she knew herself so well when everyone else was caught up in the frenzy of having to go to college to be “successful.”

  16. Peter Blau

    I wonder how many well-wishers will really change their attitudes toward the indispensability of 4-year college? How many will change their company’s hiring specifications that demand a degree before even considering an applicant? How many will advocate for more vocational education rather than pouring ever more billions of public and private money into 4 year colleges?

  17. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 🎤 DROPPED!!

  18. Roe Halper

    Perhaps your daughter should try Norwalk Community College or The State University of CT in Danbury for a year. I have found that when some of my students say the same thing about not going away to college , they get a job and are bored during the year off after high school. By going to a nearby college and live at home and take a part time job, she will not be wasting a year. These are the most productive learning years.

  19. Excellent article. When I graduated Staples ’79 they printed in Inklings (school newspaper) where everyone was going to college. If you weren’t going to a top 30 school .. you were looked at funny. I went to a State University and then on to work at Fortune 25 Corporations. I completed my MBA at night when I was 33 and KNEW I wanted a Business degree. Many people I work with in Network Marketing now are wealthy working for themselves with no college degree completed. Mindset and focus are extremely important with anything you do! Plus, with ridiculous costs of college today (going to the pockets of the Chancellor of the University) … I think trade school and any entrepreneurship is key. We need more business owners in this Country.

  20. Jean Marie Marie Wiesen

    To know yourself at a young age and have the support of your parents makes you successful. Great story, Dan! Everyone’s journey is different. Good luck to this young lady as she embarks on hers 🙂

  21. Jimmy Izzo

    Great piece Dan- wonderful to see one not consumed with Westport and society pressure to get into “that school” which does define our kids.
    I think we have what, 24 or 28 AP classes at Staples? Sometimes I wonder if this is the “right path” for our kids. A lot pressure to produce at such a young age.
    I would love to see not only in Westport, but every where, more choices to explore and grow besides just test scores and grades.

  22. Denise Torve

    “I sure wish I had gone to College after high school and not spent a few years finding myself or learning what’s important to me, or made me happy and fulfilled”…… said no adult ever. Good luck to your daughter on whatever path she decides to follow.

  23. Peter Barlow

    I’m surprised and very pleased to see the near unanimous views here. This is a good sign!

  24. David Meth

    Your daughter is quite wise and focused not to go directly to college after high school. She is also quite brave in the very competitive suburbs of lower Fairfield County where learning is subservient to SAT scores, endless extra-curricular activities, legacies, donors and early admissions for colleges and universities. Her time off will allow her to become centered, to find out the value of work, education, or whatever else she does outside of college where education is part of experience and maturity. If and when she does decide to go to college, she will know what she wants to study. A very smart and mature young woman.

  25. Jeff Giannone

    Of course, this is a great option for many kids. The thing that strikes me is the pressure is SO great in Fairfield County to conform and perform that a mother should even feel compelled to write such a letter. It just shows not only the kids are under pressure but the parents as well. Good luck!

  26. Robert E. Fatherley

    Many years ago, I was teaching high school students at a school in
    Philadelphia whose motto was, “Behold, I have set before you an open door.”
    I distinctly remember a talented senior girl who was pressured about college
    say, “I feel I’ve been shoved through the open door.” As a college counselor
    ( part of my duties) there has never been a question in my mind about
    continuing education as a desirable next step after high school. However, I have never
    questioned the wisdom of postponing the decision when it is the result
    of thoughtful deliberation on the part of a young person. I do not see
    this as “time out” or allegedly wasting one’s year (or two or three)
    “finding oneself.” I see living one’s life in the interim as a full-time job
    exploring alternatives, growing up and perhaps doing some good.
    Let us remember that some of the most talented individuals who have
    made a great difference in society elected not to attend an institution
    of higher learning. Going out in the world and following a dream is
    also a form of higher learning. I recall being told that “every society
    needs good philosophers and plumbers. Absent these, neither our
    pipes nor our theories will hold water.

  27. Cathy Barnett

    If only my own Mother had read this article when I headed off to college in the 60s!

  28. Jay Summers

    I think it is very important that we support and guide our children and help them make smart decisions. However, at age 18, kids don’t know what they want, nor should they. This is exactly the time in their lives when they should explore, learn about themselves and others, meet interesting people, hear diverse opinions, find themselves and what they may want to do, and learn about new and exciting things. And college or vocational school is one of the best places to do all of these things. If your daughter knew a long time ago that college wasn’t for her after high school, then she (and you) probably should have spent that time deciding what was right – peace corp, study abroad, or whatever interested her. But to graduate with no plan, no job, no direction – and then try to figure it out, seems like a waste of precious time. My guess is that one year from now, she will be living at home, not supporting herself, and still trying to figure things out. Life in this country is hard for everyone. It’s even harder when you don’t have a college degree. This is the same issue for every high school student, regardless where you live. I think it is up to us, as parents, to make sure our kids stay on track to thrive in the world in which we live. In my opinion, not having a plan at this point for something, anything, seems unfair to both of you. If she wasn’t taking college entrance exams, writing essays, preparing college applications, then she (and you) probably should have spent that time deciding where she will live, what she will do, and how she will support herself after graduation. My guess is that at her age, she had no idea how to even conceive a plan – and that’s exactly why some sort of continued learning, regardless of where you go, is the right plan at this point.

  29. Patrick Matthews

    So by penning this you are bringing more attention to your daughter’s decision and perhaps adding to the anxiety. There was no need to write this.

    • Jaclyn Jeffrey

      There was every need to write this and kudos to the mom for doing so! Adding to her anxiety? Seems to me that this mom and her daughter have found their peace and are sharing it to let others know there are other acceptable options. Bringing more attention to her daughter’s decision? Why, yes, she did and good for her! I suspect many high schoolers may forward this email to their parents as a way to open up a dialogue they are afraid to have and many parents may show it to their children whom they think may fear initiating this conversation… my guess is this mom’s (and her daughter’s) honesty may have just saved some families an extraordinary amount of time, worry, heartache, money, etc. Interestingly though, this mom may have expected a lot of pushback (which thankfully is almost non-existent in the thread of comments) as the article was printed without attribution.

  30. Jalna Jaeger

    I went to college for 1 year after high school. After that I did some traveling, I worked, and at 30 graduated as a nurse from NCC. I got my bachelor’s degree before my daughter started college. There are many paths to choose in life.
    Follow your 💓!

  31. Patricia McMahon

    I applaud your daughter for not
    “Drinking the koolaid” in one of the most competitive towns. Takes courage and she’s already on her journey.

  32. Mitch Thompson

    “My Daughter Does Not Wear A College Sweatshirt” is written in an open and honest manner, and the woman who wrote it deserves to be applauded for throwing it out there for ALL to judge…..especially in the type of town where
    very few will hesitate to tell someone that their view on things is wrong.
    Yes, Westport is FAR from alone in being that “type” of town. While there are some people that wrote in basically telling the woman that she is letting her daughter down, I was thrilled to see many others back her (and her daughter) up. I say “worry about your own family, and hope that your sons and daughters turn out to be good people”. What is the right path for many certainly isn’t the right path for others, for MANY reasons.

    One other thing, when I initially saw the title of the article I was thinking that maybe it was going to be about her daughter not being interested in wearing the college sweatshirt to school, a universal practice that I personally find to be rather unnecessary. It reeks of “look at me” everyone. I had two kids who went to Top 15 ranked schools in the country, and when they wore their paraphenilia into school on those days I wished that it wasn’t basically an unwritten necessity………but that’s a whole different story entirely.

  33. I am not posting my name for the sake of my son’s privacy.

    He had outstanding SATs, but marginal grades. And he endured two serious family illnesses during his high school years and the death of a relative he was very close to. We had always been somewhat “hands off” parents concerning academics, believing self-motivation was the key in the long term. But junior and senior years, we were simply unable to support him as much as we would have liked.

    So he didn’t get into the best schools. Then freshman year of college he was sick for most of the first semester. He made the decision to withdraw rather than ruin chances of a transfer with mediocre grades.

    And he made the decision to go to community college. Far away, where he knew no one, no student housing, no easy way to make friends. A studio apartment on his own, with grocery deliveries once a week.

    And guess what happened? Being on his own, he knew he was responsible for his own destiny. And he thrived. He got straight A’s. He was empowered, and proud of his accomplishments because they were his, not those of his parents or a college counselor. He knows the process has made him more mature, stronger, and far more ready to take on a rigorous four year college experience.

    Is it tough when he sees his friends who took the more traditional route? Sure. But he’ll have that traditional college experience, too, just a little delayed. And he will savor it because it will be hard-earned, and he will own it.

    So, for other parents facing these issues, I echo the original poster. Our kids are who they are, when they are. The big question is how we support them to become the best person they can be – not just at eighteen, but for the rest of their lives,

  34. J. Wandres

    Class of 1953, here: Not great grades, no money for college. Military draft breathing down my neck. Go Navy! Four years later; as a California resident I entered S.F. State. Healthy. Wiser.
    Still working on the wealthy.

  35. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    An interesting post in this time of the FBI ‘Varsity Blues’ college admissions bribery investigation and subsequent scandal. Your daughter will do just fine; given the astronomical costs of college today taking some time to decide on her course of study makes good sense (even if she concludes not to go at all).
    Upon leaving Staples I took the unconventional step of opting not to attend the university I was accepted to and enlisted in the Army for 4 years instead. The time was well spent. I earned some money, lived overseas for 3 years, learned a lot about myself, chose a different major, and two weeks after my honorable discharge was working on my BS degree with some G.I. Bill assistance. In Westport there’s a lot of pressure to succeed and go to an elite school which is great for some but unsuited for others and there’s no shame in that. Good luck to her!

  36. Denning Chambers

    I just retired 5 years ago
    I taught for 20 years and receive a pension
    But the interesting thing i would like to say is that I didn’t go to college until I was 35
    I don’t necessarily endorse nor recommend this but some of us march to a different drummer
    It’s all good

  37. Colleen Phelan

    Smart mom and daughter. College will be there later if that is where she wants to go. I hope she uses this time to grow, learn and do the things that make her happy!

  38. Kris Latchford

    Great share Dan! I was one who, for modesty sake, wasn’t academically ready for college. The Marine Corps was the wake up call I needed. I finally finished my Bachelor’s in Criminology at Texas A&M San Antonio in 2011, and was blessed to have my mom still alive to see me walk. Thanks for giving a voice to those who walk their path a little differently!

  39. Kevin Slater

    I teach at a neighboring High School. We had a few students who faced this same dilemma. They very creatively purchased shirts from a famous retailer. They proudly wore GAP that day. We each find our own way at our own pace.

  40. Ruth Donohue

    12 years ago this was my younger son. Extremely bright, born leader but not ready for college. He forced himself into a freshman year and it was the wrong move. He pulled out, joined AmeriCorps and found himself, his passion and the woman who would become his wife. Today, at a month shy of 30, he has a great job, a home he bought all on his own, a wonderful wife and a beautiful daughter. College is not for everyone, even in Westport- the land of high expectations. I applaud your daughter’s maturity to know herself at such a young age and you for being smart enough and loving enough to support her fully in her choices. Sweatshirts are a dime a dozen, knowing thyself-priceless.

  41. Cheryl Mayer

    Bravo, Mom!
    Happy Mother’s Day!

  42. Kate Mozier-Tichy

    Thank you for saying something about this. The pressure concerning college and elite schools is ridiculous. I considered taking some time off before college to deal with mental health issues, but the pressure was too great, I ended up going to UConnn… where I failed out. (Also, I remembering being told, “UConn? You can do better than that!” even though it is a Top 20 public university.) Since then I have gone to school online, which has earned me many looks as well.
    Not having a plan at 18 is totally fine, and to all those that say she is “wasting” her time, who are you to say so? Every one has their own path and it is no one’s responsibility to tell someone else how to live their life. No matter what happens, she will learn about herself. I commend her on not wanting to waste money like kids I met: they didn’t know what they wanted to do so they used it as an opportunity to party and learn nothing. The pressure around going to college is insane and not the only answer. Do not judge others for the choices they make that you would not.

  43. Great post/article. If only more people, students as well as parents, would do what is right for them rather than what everybody else expect them to do.Taking a year or two off, traveling, volunteering or working will not hurt an eighteen year old boy or girl. Rather the opposite, it will make them grow.

  44. Dan, I really love this. I feel the same way for my kids. I barely graduated due to unknown at the time, undiagnosed adhd inattentive type- and my parents found a gap year program before the term was even coined (1988 It gave me the emotional foundation, sense of success with something that wasn’t “school” and maturity to be able to pursue a BA and an MA in a subject which I have used everyday of my professional and personal life.
    Any parents interested in a year ON, not a year off…
    DYNAMY is fantastic. I even worked for them ten years later as an advisor.


  45. Irene Mastriacovo

    Great decision. Forget “free college for everyone” – how about businesses accepting job applicants that don’t require AA, BA, MBA, or whatever. I was fortunate to be hired without a college degree. 45 years later, still working, still learning. In fact, the 4 major marketing/publishing companies I worked for all offer on-the-job training webinars. Lots of opportunities out there.