In the hazy glow of the television monitor, I pace around the kitchen restlessly. I stop occasionally to change channels or change the preset buttons on our coffee maker. At four in the morning, nothing appealing flashes on the screen. The electronic news ticker scrolling across the refrigerator brings nothing new. No new emails have flooded my inbox. My iPhone 84 has been suspiciously quiet. This is probably because for the first time in six years, all of my children are safely nesting at home. And although this should be a source of comfort, I cannot stop myself from looking in on them every twenty minutes just to make sure that it is really them and not merely holograms. Tonight marks the end of an era in our home. Tomorrow my youngest child will graduate from high school. You would think that after the other two left, the third would be much easier. But it’s not, I think to myself as I manipulate the television to bring up pictures of my children.

Images of my oldest daughter Brooke flood the screen. In the first picture, she proudly dons a white cap and gown. Honors cords drape her neck and validate all of the hard work she put in during high school. Brooke had always been determined. When she was seven, she decided that she wanted to be a marine biologist and there was never any discussion about it. Brooke was adamant and she tended to get what she wanted. As she began high school, Brooke decided that she would be attending a campus-based college as opposed to the traditional route of online schooling that was so popular with her classmates. Brooke knew that she wanted concrete, hands-on-experience working with animals that could only be offered by a physical university. As sad as I was to see Brooke go, I was proud that she was choosing to move away from home to follow her passion like I had done many years before her. However, with the prices of college admission rising and the influx of housing costs, scholarships were extremely competitive. But like always, she was determined and we were eager to help her realize her dream. To ensure she would have the most competitive GPA, we hired expensive tutors. We spent hundreds of dollars on standardized test preparation. During her junior year, we exhausted two months salary so that she could purchase a comprehensive software program designed to edit and improve admission applications and personal statements. Brooke even offered her own birthday money so that she could attend virtual conferences on college admissions. With the access to education more global than it had ever been, Brooke needed to be able to compete not only on a national, but international level as well. In addition, college campuses were becoming increasingly rare and therefore admission was more competitive. Academic faculty demanded higher wages to keep up with the cost of living and real estate prices had skyrocketed. Colleges were moving to a more streamlined approach by becoming digital. Universities could higher less staff to create lessons and then use computer programming for grading and administrative purposes. College admissions were more cutthroat than they had ever been.

During her senior year, all of the hours and financial resources poured into this goal were finally rewarded. Brooke received a full scholarship to study marine biology. With our weekly correspondents via video chat, Brooke had a college experience similar to mine. Living in a dorm and making new friends, she was immersed in the college experience portrayed in classic films that were popular during the early 2000s. Although she received academic advisement from a computer program, the professors (some of the few academics left passionately clinging to shreds of outdated books) were very much human as they stood in the front of lecture halls and talked to the students for three hours each week. She graduated two years ago with honors.

Next, my son Dean’s image took up the screen. Always caught between his older sister and the baby of the family, Dean could not wait to escape the city. During high school, Dean chose not to focus on preparing for college admission as much as foreign travel. While his sister worked endlessly to be perfect on paper, Dean immersed himself in studying the culture, particularly the languages, of other countries. By the time he graduated high school, he was a master in six languages as his only request was the annually updated Rosetta Stone software.  Having tired of the United States education system, Dean decided to go abroad. He created his own plan of study, which broke away from the constraints of books and typical learning, online or otherwise. Piecing together a unique plan of study involving many different internships and language programs in several countries, Dean has created an impressive portfolio rivaled only by senior Foreign Service officers. With less emphasis on getting a degree, Dean compiled a series of experiences: learning conflict resolution from world leaders, helping to revise outdated trade agreements, observing the peace talks between Greek and Turkish leaders in Northern Cyprus firsthand, and mastering an additional four languages. With so many advances in technology, Dean believes that global matters are of the utmost importance. While he appreciates and respects the fact that his sister received a degree, Dean has chosen to stress the importance of applicable experience. Although this was not an option available to me after high school, I am glad that these opportunities have been available for my son. We are very lucky to have him home with us this weekend as his new job as the director of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is time consuming. It is worth mentioning that Dean is the youngest person to ever hold this position. Although the words of Robert Frost, a practically ancient poet in this day, would be lost on Dean, I always remind him that he took the road less travelled and it made all the difference.

Tomorrow my youngest son, Eli, will walk the stage to receive his diploma. Unlike his other two siblings, Eli has chosen the most conventional route. Instead of entering a campus-based school or travelling the world, Eli will remain at home and complete an accelerated degree online. Although he does not possess the same competitive drive as his brother and sister, he does not lack passion. He has enrolled in an online program for graphic design. Since education has become more specialized, there is no longer the emphasis placed on having a rounded, liberal arts core as there was when I attended school. Eli will not be required to study world civilizations or philosophy, but will spend the majority of his time developing his skills as a graphic designer. Each week, he will submit his work that will be critiqued by a highly developed computer program. Three times a semester, the professor will review the critiques given by the program to assess Eli’s final grade. Since the online classes will allow him to create his own schedule, I have urged Eli to continue to pursue math, history, and science. When he protests, I argue that math will help him understand how to create angles, depth, and dimension. History will give him the historical and cultural contexts of his predecessors and help him to assess the impact his work could potentially have on his generation. Even science would be beneficial when working with colors and light. He just rolls his eyes, but I unpacked a few of my dusty books and set them next to his computer as a friendly reminder.

The screen of the monitor goes black. I wonder alone in the darkness if I would have ever been able to imagine that this is what the future would have held. With so many opportunities I was never given, my children have been able to create entirely new lives for themselves that are so different from the generations before them. I cannot even begin to fathom what the future possesses for the children of my children. I check my email one last time. I make sure my iPhone 84 is securely charging. Goodness knows that if it died midday, it would be the first sign of the Apocalypse. Satisfied, I go upstairs to look in on my children one more time.