It’s finally here, the day that you are done with high school. I remember wondering, when you were tiny embryos in two petri dishes, if we would ever reach this moment. I didn’t know if you would survive your transfer into my uterus. If you did survive, I didn’t know what kind of boys and men you would become or what kind of mother I would be.

I didn’t understand yet, the intensity of the love I would feel for both of you. I got a glimpse of it when one of you landed in the NICU, and I couldn’t bear the thought of you dying.

And here we are. We have been through so much together, me trying to parent you, you trying to understand yourselves and the world as it is today.

I have given you so much advice over the years, not all of it right. But I’m still your mother, and I will keep trying. As you both go off to your own colleges, I offer you some guidance for these next steps:

  1. Find your passion and study it. I remember when I discovered Russian literature and could not stop reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky or discussing them in coffee shops with professors and classmates. Okay, this is probably not going to be either of you, but somewhere at some point, you will find topics that fascinate you. Let that excitement fuel you.
  2. Be curious and humble. You don’t understand much about anything. You may think you do, but you don’t. In truth, you will always have more to learn. Ask questions. Seek out people with different perspectives. Listen more than you talk. You will change your mind over and over as you discover new information. Be open to that process. Never assume you already know everything about any topic.
  3. Engage in civil conversations. Be respectful to those who differ from you. (I have learned this the hard way. Benefit from my mistakes.) It is one thing to go to a protest or two and feel outraged or upset as you learn more about the world. But shouting accomplishes nothing except more shouting or, even worse, silencing those people with opinions that are different than your own. On the other hand, if another person with a different viewpoint can’t be civil to you, walk away from the conversation. They aren’t there to learn as you are, and you too deserve respect.
  4. Go to class. I can’t emphasize this enough. We have saved and sacrificed for you to go to college, and it is a privilege for you to be there. Do not waste your time and our money. I don’t care how important a cause is to you or how bad your hangover is, you are there to go to class, hone your skills, and get an education from professors and your fellow students. You carry the weight of generations of Jews before you who were unable to get the formal schooling you are so lucky to get. Find the professors who want to teach and mentor you in critical thinking and analytical skills, along with the topics that interest you. Seek out mentors who are level-headed and kind.
  5. There will be students engulfed in causes, and it may be tempting to prioritize what you think is social justice over your studies. Listen critically to what advocates are saying. You might not, in the end, agree, and that’s okay. In addition, you won’t solve any large problems by sitting in a tent or engulfing yourself in strident dogma. You can make changes in society, but that is a long-term strategy. If you want to make a difference, for example, in foreign policy, study and become a lawyer or join the State Department. If you want to move people for a cause, study, for example, your music and write a song with lyrics to influence people. There are many ways to advocate, and none of them should involve you abandoning your day-to-day schooling and throwing yourself and your school into chaos. I never want to hear that you have interfered with other students’ ability to study or walk through campus. I never want to hear that you have disrespected the institutions we have made sacrifices for you to attend.
  6. Expect consequences for breaking rules, and don’t whine your way out of them. Consequences are part of being in a society.
  7. Right now, Jewish college students are finding themselves excluded from friend groups, career-helping opportunities, and college activities unless they declare themselves anti-Zionists. You know that I have experienced this firsthand. A true friendship does not demand a pre-condition that you abandon a core of your identity. Acceptance is not worth the cost of turning your back on your people. You are Jews. You have been and always will be, even though you will go through a variety of phases in which you question what that means to you and how you live that in practice. But never allow yourself to be tokenized or allow someone to humiliate you by making demands on how you express your Jewishness.
  8. I did not bring you into the world to be miserable. Find joy where you can. Get help when you need it. I am always here for you. In the end, I hope you become someone who contributes positively to society and is kind and thoughtful. However, the biggest expectation I have is that you live your lives fully — drinking in knowledge, working hard, finding success, and discovering how you can best be happy.
Article by Author/s
Anna Stolley Persky
Anna Stolley Persky is a lawyer and an award-winning journalist. She also recently graduated from George Mason University’s MFA program for creative writing. Her non-fiction essays have been published in The Washington Post, Two Hawks Quarterly, The Jewish Writing Project, and Pithead Chapel. She has three children.


  1. Susanna Frisch Reply

    Beautifully said. I wish I had the eloquence to say those same words to my sons, instead I will have them read yours. Thank you Anna!

  2. Barbara Saunders-Adams Reply

    Sound advice Anna. I hope your sons will follow it.

Write A Comment


Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter