The worst thing you can do standing in the shade of a large oak tree in front of an admin building where the miracle known as student life was handed to you moments ago in the shape of a roster that indicates Monday classes only start at ten and you basically have the whole of November and December off and the birds are singing and the sun is shining and you see the next three years flash before your eyes and there are parties and sitting on grass and more parties and a bit of studying and a lot of sleeping and more parties and you come back to the present and there are your parents standing in front of you - your father beaming with pride, your mother fighting off tears.
The worst thing you can do in that special moment is to turn around and run, kicking your heels in the air screaming, “Free at last! Free at last!” at the top of your lungs.
Saying goodbye to your parents on your first day as a student calls for some restraint. The two people in front of you – your mom sobbing openly now; dad consoling her – were by your side for nearly two decades guiding you, loving you, bathing you and embarrassing you pretty much the same way they’re doing now from the bottom of their hearts.
The least you can do is to tone it down and say goodbye with a fake lump in your throat and make-believe regret that the years fighting over curfew times have come to an end.
Now. Faking emotion requires energy and practice. The face has 43 muscles, all of which are hard wired to express the deep joy you feel about the prospect of embarking on a new life. It’s called muscle memory and, for the purposes of our exercise, is enemy number one.
Saying goodbye to your folks as campus life erupts into life around you will trigger your face muscles to respond with smiling or laughing or both. Training those muscles to say the opposite of what your heart is telling them is therefore of the upmost importance when parting ways with your guardians. At that point, you want to communicate sadness and intense fear of the great unknown that lies ahead.
The internet tells us that sadness is best conveyed by crying, but I’d advise steering clear of such an outpouring of emotion so as not to arouse suspicion. Besides, mom might be crying already which could make dad feel left out. I therefore recommend drooping your eyelids and furrowing your brow.
Fear is in the eyes, more specifically, in large eyes showing enough white to blind an owl. You want your eyes to scare your parents, but not to the point where they revoke your scholarship. The right amount of fear will move your mom to say “Shame, did you see how afraid he looked?” to your dad in the car on the way home. Nothing more, nothing less.
Body language is a clear indicator of where your head is at and I think it goes without saying turning on your heel, running away from your parents as fast as you can, is not the best way to go. You want to be subtle. Drop your shoulders and kick in the dust while looking down. Lifting your hand to touch dad’s shoulder won’t hurt either.
Wikipedia advises actors to “gaze at nothing in particular” to convince audiences of their sadness. I would advise against that for the simple reason that everywhere you look on the first day of the rest of your life will fill you with excitement about a lot of specific things: the people around you will appear to not have a care in the world. They will walk in groups, not lines. They will carry their textbooks for the day in one hand, or not carry textbooks at all. They will look happy and content.
Looking at them – your future fellow students – will only fill you with hope and hope is the shortcut to unbridled joy. Maintain your composure. Try to stay focused on your parents and keep looking sad for as long as possible.
When you feel happiness coursing through your veins and push up into your face, turn around and slowly walk away from your folks. When you are about ten metres away, turn around and face your former house mates.
Smile and wave.