The Summer Between High-School and College: A Giant Gap

There was a story on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition show on July 16, 2013, about “summer melt.” These are the students who say in spring when they graduate from high school that they are going to college in the fall, but they do not actually enroll when autumn comes. The “summer melt” is as high as 40% for students who plan to enroll in community colleges – mostly urban, lower income students.

This is a serious problem, and I urge readers to listen to the NPR story.

But that problem is not my topic today. My topic is how two words in the NPR broadcast triggered memories of my summer between high school and college. The Morning Edition story mentioned a “giant gap” between high school and college, when neither the high schools nor the colleges feel responsible for the kids.

“Giant gap.”

That’s exactly how I felt in the summer of 1973, after my high school graduation and before I started at Middlebury College. I recall feeling completely finished with one phase of my life, but unconnected to my future.

I was in a giant, carefree gap. Nothing left over from my past school years. Nothing yet begun on my next responsibilities.

I was not working. “She should take the summer off before college,” one of my parents said. “She can help with the little kids at the lake,” that same or the other parent said.

View of dock from cabin deck, Coeur d'Alene Lake, circa 1972

View of dock from cabin deck, Coeur d’Alene Lake, circa 1972

My parents owned a vacation cabin on Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho by then, and my mother planned to spend most of the summer there with my younger brothers and sister. My father would commute on weekends.

It was an idyllic way to spend three months. We traveled back and forth to our home in Richland, Washington, every few weeks, but most of the summer we spent on the lake. We went down to the dock in mid-morning and stayed there until mid-afternoon, swimming and waterskiing and eating. (For more on summers on Coeur d’Alene Lake see here and here.)

I lay on the dock, small waves from boat wakes lapping against the wood, rocking me gently into stupor. Cerulean sky above, sapphire lake around me, green firs on the distant shore. Life was perfect.

And I knew it. I knew life would never be so good again.

Now, in my yoga classes, when the instructor says during the relaxation and meditation phase, “Think of a safe place where you are happy,” I remember that summer on the lake.

There have been good times in my life since 1973, of course, but never a time without a purpose. Never a “giant gap” between phases of my life.

The summer between college and law school, I worked. The summer between law school and starting my first job as an attorney, I had to take the bar exam. My maternity leaves – gaps of another type – were consumed with baby care.

Even when moving from work into retirement, I went immediately into a mediation training program and launched into writing a book. I made my own obligations, but they were obligations nonetheless.

So now I look back on that “giant gap” with a sigh. I realize even more how fortunate I was to have that carefree summer.

Unlike the students in the NPR story, I did not have any problems distracting me from starting college as I planned. No worries about financial aid, no fears about doing college-level work, no concerns that I should get a job to help my family.

I was simply grateful for my “giant gap,” knowing I might never have another.

Have you ever had a gap period? Was it a positive or negative time in your life?

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  1. I do remember the summer between high school and college, and I remember feeling displaced. My mother had just remarried and moved to another state; at the time I did not go with her and I did not quite know how to process what had happened in my life. I had been used to her being there for me all my life, I never thought I would have to learn how to live without her.

    • Joan,
      That summer is a time of displacement for many of us. Sounds like you had more going on in your life that year than most people.
      Thanks for reading my post,

  2. Pingback: Harrison, Idaho, and Summer Parades | Story & History

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