Letting Go at Ringling

Guest Correspondence

Photo by Rich Schineller

We have had the great pleasure at Ringling College of Art and Design this past week of welcoming the largest incoming freshman class in the history of our institution.

That’s right, over 500 new young people, representing 42 different states and 30 diverse countries, arrived in Sarasota to spend the next four years pursuing their artistic dreams at one of the world’s premiere art and design colleges.

So the campus has been bustling with fresh energy these past few days. Folks from all over the world have trekked everything from stuffed animals to mini-fridges to artwork into our residence halls (the modern word for dorms). And while you’ve often heard me talk about our amazing students, I’d like to take a moment here to recognize the often forgotten parents and other family members who helped guide these students to this crucial jumping off point in their lives.

The community of parents at Ringling College is like no other. I love them. Think about it, they are the ultimate cheerleaders of creativity and the creative leaders of tomorrow. Somehow, their faith in the vision of the youth they have nurtured has led them here to us. Instead of forcing their child to study other, more popular, disciplines like science, technology, engineering and math, or requiring their child go to a large comprehensive university, this special group has accepted the dreams of their children to study art and design at an art and design college. They were willing to put their faith in us to educate their beloved child so he/she/they can pursue their passion and see them thrive in their creative careers.

So, I have to stop and think about what these parents must be experiencing as they deliver not only the furniture and electronics on move-in day, but as they prepare to leave their loved one here on campus in our care. What emotions are they feeling when they drive or fly away from this experience, and from a lifetime of experiences with their children? This is a big moment.

What I can say for sure is that it is a true rollercoaster—emotional ups and downs, and all around. It is a big moment, but it certainly isn’t an easy one. As a father of three children, I am completely empathetic. I can see not only the pride in their eyes for the journey their student is embarking upon, but also the sheer terror of the unknown. I tell these new students, if you think you are scared, you should see your parents.

As president, it’s my role to reassure them—to let them know again and again that they’ve made the right choice. And I know they have, because I trust our dedicated staff and faculty to do everything they can to take care of our now nearly 1,600 students. In addition to our stellar academic program, the Student Life programs, under the energized leadership of Dr. Tammy Walsh, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, are unlike any other art and design school in the world. At Ringling, we pride ourselves on educating the “whole” student with a series of activities that help develop and shape leadership and the “soft skills” needed for each student to be fully prepared for the “real world” when they graduate.

I applaud this group of brave souls who will give their final hugs, shed their tears, and walk away this weekend in order to allow their student room to grow, to learn, to flourish, to dream, and to discover who they are. Bravo, I say. And I also thank these parents for being willing to take the risk and trust us to foster the brightest future possible for each and every one of our new students. Yep, we’ve got this.

Ringling Family strong!

Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art and Design.

Photo by Rich Schineller

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