Off they go to college, to hone their skills, navigate relationships and, ultimately, look beyond themselves to a complex world in need of their talents.
Unless you’re Stryker Thompson, and you pretty much had locked all that up before move-in day.
Thompson, 18, began classes at the University of Minnesota last week on a Presidential Scholarship. He enters the U from St. Paul’s Como Park High School, carrying 65 credits from 14 successful AP exams. He graduated fourth in his class, won policy debate competitions, played baseball and held down a part-time job.
But the big story here is none of those things. It’s quiet and sweet, much like Thompson. It’s the story of a uniquely perceptive young man, and his mother, a writer, who now wakes up every morning “filled with self-purpose.”
Mary Petrie cannot believe “the labor, stealth and detail” her son employed to self-publish her novel this summer. She had put the book, and her dreams, on hold more than a decade ago to help care for her family.
Her son, though, was taking copious mental notes. “There are things in people’s lives that need to be fulfilled,” he said over pancakes at a St. Paul diner.
. . . .
He knew, vaguely, that she had written a novel when he was about 6, and that it had come close to being accepted by a major publishing house.
. . . .
Ultimately, the book went nowhere. As the real estate market tanked, Petrie jumped in to help the family financially, taking a job teaching English and gender and women’s studies at Inver Hills Community College. Still, she often talked about self-publishing.
“She said that for years,” Thompson said. “She repeated it so much. You keep on putting it off until it’s part of your schedule to put it off. She didn’t have time in her schedule to do it.”
She even shared with her son what the book cover might look like, pulling from a closet a yellow dress, sleeveless, sprinkled with red poppies.
Eventually, she stopped talking about the book altogether.
. . . .
He casually asked his mom to send him files of her chapters, one by one. Maybe he’d read them, but he wasn’t promising.
Of course, he read every one, in the evenings and on weekends, in between studying for seven AP classes and serving as captain of the debate team and pondering German philosophers Nietzsche and Heidegger.
He fixed typos, added page breaks and indents, deleted extra spaces between words. “I got into a groove,” he said, “but it was very meticulous work.”
. . . .
He studied online forums for the pros and cons of self-publishing. He ultimately went with CreateSpace.com, a website that allows printing on demand.
An hour after his graduation party, he headed to the home of his girlfriend, graphic designer Tessa Portuese, to design the cover and pick a cover font.
. . . .
On June 20, after returning from a debate tournament, Thompson nervously crossed the street to where the book proof awaited. He went into his basement and wrapped it up in blue tissue. He came upstairs and walked toward his mom, who was sitting in the kitchen after yoga, eating alone at the table. “Mom,” he said. “I got you a little something. For raising me.”
She tore at the paper and saw the book — with the yellow dress on the cover. “I’d never seen her cry that much,” Thompson said. “We were both crying.” And hugging, Petrie added.