The Atlantic

Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition

There's more to life than leaving home.
Source: lookseebynaomifenton/Flickr

This month, many of the nation's best and brightest high school seniors will receive thick envelopes in the mail announcing their admission to the college of their dreams. According to a 2011 survey, about 60 percent of them will go to their first-choice schools. For many of them, going away to college will be like crossing the Rubicon. They will leave their families—their homes—and probably not return for many years, if at all.

That was journalist Rod Dreher's path. Dreher grew up in the small southern community of Starhill, Louisiana, 35 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. His family goes back five generations there. His father was a part-time farmer and sanitarian; his mother drove a school bus. His younger sister Ruthie loved hunting and fishing, even as a little girl.

But Dreher was different. As a bookish teenager, he was desperate to flee what he considered his intolerant and small-minded town, a place where he was bullied and misunderstood by his own father and sister. He felt more at home in the company of his two eccentric and worldly aunts—great-great aunts, actually—who lived nearby. One was a self-taught palm reader. She looked into his hand one day when he was a boy and told him, "See this line? You'll travel far in life." Dreher hoped

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