When College Calls, and Dreamers Follow Commentator Jesse Ybarra lives in Altamont, Kan., a small farming community near Oklahoma. The teacher and coach of 24 years says he has mixed emotions about his sons leaving for college.
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When College Calls, and Dreamers Follow

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When College Calls, and Dreamers Follow

When College Calls, and Dreamers Follow

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Commentator Jesse Ybarra lives just across the Oklahoma border in Kansas. He says kids who go to college from his area usually stay close to home.

JESSE YBARRA:

I've been a high school teacher and coach for 24 years in the small farming community of Altamont, Kansas; population, an even 1,000. And for 24 years I've seen graduating classes burrow even deeper the traditional paths that our students follow. Mostly they attend the local community colleges. Some of them venture to state colleges a few hours from home.

My wife Peggy and I used to say to our oldest son, `Ian, you can become anything you can imagine. Yes, you can become an astronaut, an archaeologist, a professional baseball player.' We never gave much thought to where Ian would have to travel for this transformation to take place. We had no concept that front-lawn Wiffle ball games on soft summer evenings would lead our son a thousand miles away to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and MIT. He dreamed of engineering better bats and balls.

Our middle son, Matthew, attends Stanford University. It's a surreal moment. Your son stands before you, taller than you, of course, and says, `I have decided to go to college in California.' You hear the words, but all you see is the eight-year-old version of him. That's when it's crucial to try and remember they're only doing what you raised them to do. Sometimes as parents we forget what it was to dream. We forget that we were all descendants of courageous immigrants in our family tree, like my father, a railroad worker who made our lives possible by doing what he was raised to do: take a risk, chase a dream, break away from traditional paths.

This part of the country is a great place to raise a family. The Kansas sun feels so right on your face. The familiar landmarks that almost make it possible to drive by moonlight make life very comfortable here. In a weak moment, I find myself secretly wishing that our boys had chosen schools closer to our hometown and that they would be moving back to Altamont after college, like their friends. I don't mind admitting that my wife and I usually shed some tears after taking our sons to the airport, but I think about how much more Peggy and I would weep if we had not encouraged our boys to make their dreams a real part of their lives.

Our sons will be home again. They have too much of us and their home in them to leave for very long. But they do have places to go first. For now, it's our responsibility to share their excitement because they're only doing what we raised them to do.

INSKEEP: Commentator Jesse Ybarra is a high school athletic director in Altamont, Kansas. You can find a photo of the Ybarra family and a profile of Matthew Ybarra at npr.org.

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