By December 4, 2011 Read More →

A Letter To My Daughter As She Heads Off To College

I may get in trouble for this (after all I am never allowed to tag her on Facebook), but my daughter had an assignment in school recently and I wanted to share.

Well, it was more of an assignment for me as she wraps up her senior year in high school and prepares to head off to college.  The assignment was simple–have your parent write you a letter with some advice for the future.  They opened them in class and were able to share them (or parts) with the rest of the class if they wished.  Here is what I said:

Dear T—

First of all, you will never have any idea of how proud I am of you and all that you have accomplished in your 17 years and counting. Your head is secure and your future is brighter than bright. You may not yet realize it yet, but I knew it 17 years ago.

But, as to this assignment….what is my advice for your future? Wow, there are so many lessons that I have learned that I am willing to share it is hard to know where to begin; but you already are off to a great start.

When I was in New Orleans after Katrina, I saw some pretty depressing things. The damage was amazing. I had the chance to interview a local artist who goes by the name “Dr. Bob.” He is a folk artist descended from a mix of ethnicities, like most in New Orleans. His philosophy is simple—be nice or leave.  I think that it a pretty good guiding principle for me, you, and really everyone. Life is too short, and the world too small to be anything other than nice. There are times when I am furious—and I remember Dr. Bob, and somehow things tend to simmer down.

You are a brilliant young woman and your potential is literally limitless. You have made the decision to go into teaching and there are few more noble and rewarding professions. I am so proud of your decisions and hard work that have brought you to this point in your life.  Do not ever underestimate your potential. I know it sounds cliché and very much like “something your dad would say” but it is true. If you want something bad enough, there should be nothing to stop you. And never, never, let someone try to sell you short and tell you that you can’t!  Ever!

Go for it T! Really, dream as big as you can and go for it. You can do anything; but while you’re dreaming big, be sure to live in the here and now. Enjoy the present because before you know it, it’ll be the past; and there is no worse feeling than wishing you had done something you didn’t do.

Your goals, ideas, and careers will change–and that’s ok. You aren’t a failure for changing your mind–you’re brave for going forward into something unexpected, new and oftentimes scary.

On a practical note, don’t do stupid things. When your brother went to San Juan with his friends, my single rule was “don’t do anything stupid.” Beyond that, I trusted his judgment. Everything you do has some sort of consequence. You study hard and you get good grades. You drive carefully and you are accident-free. As you begin to experience all that adulthood brings, please understand that you are still very young and inexperienced in many things and think twice before committing to anything—come to think of it, think three times to be safe!

Be a friend. It may be a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a stranger, relative, or (perish the thought) even a parent or a brother or sister! Everyone needs friends and just being there for someone is huge. I have many friends that I don’t see that often or speak with frequently. But, I know that I can call them at 3 in the morning for their support if needed—no matter the time or distance between us. It is a great feeling and I encourage you to cultivate your friends and be there for them just as they, undoubtedly, will be there for you.

Everyone gets duped at some time or another. Be aware of people that might take advantage of your friendship to hurt someone else, or to further some personal hidden agenda. Again, you are so sharp that I know you can see through a lot of this, but please be careful and don’t let anyone take advantage of you.

But more than anything, I want you to know that I’ll never do anything to intentionally hurt you. As unfortunate as they may be, you’ll have to make your own mistakes. I can’t make you learn from mine, but I will always be there for you to try and guide you in the right direction. And when you do mess up, (we all do) never be afraid to call me. I will be here for you. Always! That’s what dads do!

If you are ever in any kind of bind and need some help (or more advice), know that I have been here for you since you were born and I will be here for you every step of the way.

When you are older and fall in “real” love, understand that I don’t care what your partner looks like. I care about how you are treated. And the person who earns your heart should love you for your inner beauty—there I go with those clichés again!

And someday, way in the future (I will not go into this “grandfather” thing easily) when you have children of your own, you’ll truly understand how much I love you, and you’ll finally understand where I’ve been coming from all these years!

Now, with almost a thousand words, all I can say is go get ‘em girl. I can’t wait to be a part of the next chapter of your life. I love you!

All my love to you…always—




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15 Comments on "A Letter To My Daughter As She Heads Off To College"

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  1. Wendy says:

    Awesome advice! She is a very lucky young lady to have had such a wonderful father in her life.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    My daughter is only approaching 6 right now, but I hope someday to be able to write something anywhere approaching how spot on your letter was!

  3. John says:


  4. Mark says:

    Well said and very nicely done.

  5. thanks for the info, I’ve save a lot of time searching on the web. this could help me improve. by the way, have you been to arkansas?

  6. Tiina says:

    As I was reading this letter I got more and more suprised how caringly this was written. So much love!
    I wish you both the dreams you are waiting for to be fullfilled and courage to reach to them!

  7. John says:

    Thank you. It was not one that was dashed off in haste for sure–took a couple of days!

  8. Tiina says:

    Again, so nice answer! Thank you for responding! My best wishes for You and your family!

  9. Angela says:

    Dear John,
    I goggled “what to say to your daughter as she goes off to college”, not for my daughter who still has 3 years, but for my twin and what advice I can give her… they head off to UM tomorrow. Your letter was the first link I opened… enough said! I don’t need to look any further as you have said it all plain and simple with so much love and care. I am saving this letter for when my daughters go off to college, and of course, I will not repeat word per word, but I will have a beatiful quideline for which to follow. Thank you! Hope your daughter is doing as great if not better than what she thought.

  10. John says:

    Thanks for your words! Yes, she is loving life in Florida and I am missing her. I guess we are both growing up. Best to you and yours!

  11. Marjorie says:

    As I’m preparing for my daughter to go off to college, your words hit home for me and made me cry. Good job! You get an A+ and you obviously raised a wonderful daughter.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Wow beautiful letter dad …u make me cry

  13. carol says:

    Good letter. I use some of this writing to sms my daughter.

  14. Pinky bhansali says:

    Good letter. I use some of this writing to sms my daughter.

  15. Catherine says:

    Dear John,

    Your beautiful letter encompasses everything a parent can think of saying to a daughter who is heading off to college or just moving out of home. You have covered everything any parent would want to say so thank you very much. My step-daughter had to put her college plans on hold and moved in with us. She is now heading back to college to finish up and I will be sharing your words (not word for word of course) with her. Thank you! You are an awesome parent and I know you daughter is a better person because of your love.

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