Now that my baby girl is almost 21 months, I figured we should probably get a jump on those college applications and schedule some campus tours this summer.

JUST KIDDING. But she did visit a college campus recently and got a quick insider tour of the College of the Holy Cross. We were there for a friend’s wedding and my daughter darted around the mostly deserted, meticulously maintained grounds on her first visit to a college campus.

And, forgive me: I got nostalgic. I always do whenever I set foot on campus because somehow I manage to forget how lovely my alma mater is.

I hadn’t been back in a few years, and on this visit, I was struck by how different it is—although perhaps, it was how different I am.

Certainly, things have changed on campus physically. The buildings have been renovated, professors have moved on and retired, and students seem younger than I remember being in college. There are new dorms, new programs, new dining hall options. It’s strange that a place that I know so intimately can also be such unfamiliar territory. Perhaps it was that the physical place I was chasing my child through is no longer really mine, and the one I’m remembering doesn’t exactly exist anymore.

The feeling I get when I set foot on campus, though, that doesn’t change. Truthfully, sometimes I get nostalgic walking through other college campuses, those with which I have no personal connection. They all stir up memories of my past. I think of making a profound realization in a favorite class, having a silly moment with wonderful friends, the joy of a perfect chai tea latte and a book for homework, a bloom of crimson creeping into the ivy. That college, that place, will always be mine.

And then I get a bit wistful, but not necessarily thinking of my own experience. I did love my time at Holy Cross dearly, and have a trove of wonderful memories to prove it. (Though I don’t miss things like sharing a bathroom with 35 people or agonizing over exam prep.) But I find myself reminiscing about things that could have been—what would have happened if I had participated in different clubs, chosen different courses, tried out a different major? Who would my friends be if I lived Wheeler instead of Mulledy in my first year, or decided to study abroad in Ireland instead of Italy? Or the ultimate—what if I hadn’t gone to school here?

It’s not with regret that I think about these things, not at all. It’s what college means to me, what I believe higher education offers: possibilities. What an opportunity to be engaged in learning, with a wide-open future!

Even devoid of the hustle and bustle of normal campus life, even thinking of the drama of higher ed politics, even with all of the issues that still need resolution on campuses nationwide, it’s this sense of hope that I love most about higher education. That deep down, entrenched in the heart of the campus, it’s a place of learning, of self discovery, of opportunity.

And perhaps that’s the reason I felt so different on this most recent visit to Holy Cross. The possibilities I was thinking of were no longer my own from a long time ago. I was thinking about my daughter—who she’ll grow to be and what she’ll learn and love on a campus of her own some day.