The parking lots were jammed. Cops directed traffic. It was 95 degrees. The Winthrop University campus felt like the Sahara on Friday afternoon.
Add to that hundreds of mommas and daddies watching their babies-turned-teens climb stairs to start new lives – without them.
Rock Hill sees its largest single-day population growth about this time each year as hundreds of freshmen move into dorms in the sweltering heat. This year, more than 1,100 freshmen are enrolled. Not all live in the dorms, but many do.
Fathers lugged boxes and bags, stuffed animals, and pillows and comforters. Mothers carried clothes by the armloads. Brothers and sisters carried cases of water and sodas, hair dryers and posters, and milk crates stuffed with the things that matter to teens.
All carried bittersweet, sometimes heavy hearts, too. Because for each family, a child has started adulthood.
Nobody talked about the school’s trustees or its fired president. Starting college, grades, bills, classes, books, costs, nerves, making new friends, living in a dorm room with a stranger – all far more important than bureaucracy and administrators.
Colleges thrive and succeed because of the students and the families who sacrifice and save to send those students to school to chart a life. Who sits in an office across campus matters not at all on move-in day.
The two big dorms fronting Rock Hill’s Cherry Road – Wofford Hall and Richardson Hall – were a zoo of people in and out. Hundreds of volunteers – from fraternities, sororities, churches, civic groups, school employees – helped families with moving.
Yasmeen Leach, 18, a freshman from Newberry, talked about how “excited” she was to start college. Her mother, Jennifer Morgan, was “excited and nervous.”
“I just want her to stay focused and hit those books,” Jennifer Morgan said.
Her words were echoed all over the dorms. Darryl and Ellen Harvey, of Summerville, carried stuff up to the eighth floor, the top floor, for daughter Denee.
“I keep telling her to keep focused, study, and be mindful of the company she keeps,” Darryl Harvey said.
Denee Harvey promised her father that she would do her best.
In one third-floor room, Diedra Thacker’s entire family – mom, granny, aunts, godmother, cousins, the works – came over from Roebuck, in Spartanburg County, to help her move in.
“I have so much support, I just know I can make it at Winthrop,” she said.
Outside, after moving in all the clothes and more, Robert and Clare Parker of Columbia told daughter Chrissy to “be safe and great – and call home a lot.”
Chrissy Parker, 18, vowed to call.
“She has made us proud every day of her life,” said Clare Parker.
“Every parent dreams of success, a college education, for their children,” said Robert Parker.
The family hugged and hugged.
Because talk of books and grades, courses and dining hall food, doesn’t cover the hardest part of a teen’s going away to college – that last minute when the parents hug the kid, and everybody tries not to cry.
Hundreds of times Friday, parents and children failed. People cried. The love of parent and child, now expressed by long distance.
In front of Tillman Hall, a father named Andrew Hartline of Greenville had lugged all the stuff. He had finished the talks about safety and how he trusts his daughter, Bethany – a 20-year-old transfer student who lived at home attending technical college the past two years – to make good decisions after two decades of instruction.
“Baby girl, I love you,” Hartline said, as he hugged his daughter.
Bethany hugged back and, a few minutes later, was an adult on her own. One of hundreds in a new city filled with new dreams – and tears – each on move-in day.