All around the country a great odyssey is in progress. Students are finally getting their wishes and leaving home to head off to colleges and universities everywhere. In some places, classes are already starting and so this advice may be coming entirely too late as it is, but I feel compelled to try anyway. I do not have any children of my own and so will never be in the position to take someone to school, help him or her unpack the car, and get all the luggage and accoutrements into the dorm. Even so, I’m calling on my own experience in a huge public university back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we took notes on a slate instead of an iSlate. Pass it on as you will. It comes from the heart.
Here goes, in no certain order of importance:
1. CHOOSE YOUR ROOMMATE CAREFULLY. Do not, under ANY circumstances, pick your BFF as your roommate as a freshman. No better method for destroying a friendship exists in the annals of civilization than trying to co-habitate the same space as a person you have known and ostensibly loved for a big chunk of your life at a time in both those lives when everything about the two of you is in flux. You are better off taking the luck of the draw than trying to keep the friendship alive by rooming together.
2. BE RESPONSIBLE. You have been screaming at your parents and the rest of the world just how responsible and grown up you are. Well, now is your chance to ACT LIKE IT. Don’t talk about being responsible — do it. Set an alarm and go to class on time, even the 8:00 AM ones you were insane enough to sign up for. Go to bed on time. Study as much as you need to.
3. DO NOT TRUST ANYONE YOU DO NOT KNOW until he or she gives you ample reason to do so. You are in the “real world” now and that world is full of predators. I’m not trying to scare you, but this isn’t a stupid horror movie. If you get in with the wrong person, you could end up in big trouble. You CANNOT tell a book by its cover. Ted Bundy was movie star handsome, brilliant enough to run for office, and executed for murdering at least 30 COLLEGE GIRLS. Watch yourself. Eventually, you will make friends who will go to the wall for you and when you do, look out for each other.
4. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. College is a time of challenges — to your beliefs, your ideals, and your character. You’ll be pressured to “change” in some way or another. Ignore the hype. If you love Jesus, don’t become a militant atheist just because a professor says so. Don’t dabble in Wicca just because the cute boy down the hall claims to be a high priest. Don’t change who you are just for the sake of changing. After all, being who you are got you this far, right? Of course, if you’re an asshole, by all means change. No one likes an asshole.
5. GET A PLAN. I’m where I am right now because I am the poster child for goal-less wandering. I wouldn’t trade my years in teaching for anything, but to be honest, I backed into education as a major. I NEVER sat down with myself or anyone else and figured out where I wanted to head in life and what I needed to do to get there. I just floated along and now I’m paying for it. Set goals, do research, decide what needs to be done and go do it. Alternatively, just go with the flow, but if you do, don’t be surprised when you are 43 and wondering, “How in the Hell did I get here?”
6. WATCH YOUR MONEY. Once again, I’m speaking from painful, personal experience. Unless you or your parents are exceptional planners, you’re already looking at student loan debt. Don’t add credit cards and other money suckers to that mountain as well. When I was in college, we didn’t get pre-approval credit card forms. Back then, they sent us a real live credit card and all you had to do was call and activate it and start burning plastic. I never turned one down and that’s why I live in a single-wide trailer instead of having a log cabin on the Bitterroot River in Montana like one of my buddies from high school and college.
7. AVOID STUPIDITY. Don’t make stupid choices, don’t hang out with stupid people, and don’t do stupid things. This is the era of social media. Any stupid move you make will be worldwide before you get back to your dorm room. The night I passed out on the steps of Tillman Hall stumbling back from the Esso Club, I didn’t have to worry about anything but security guards and rain. Try that nowadays and you’ll be on someone’s Facebook page in a skinny minute. Get drunk and strip on a table at a frat party? Hello, viral YouTube; goodbye future promotion opportunity. Ignorance is fine; it can be cured with education, but — to quote Ron White, “You can’t fix stupid.”
8. DON’T BLOW YOUR FUTURE TO HAVE FUN TODAY. You will be faced with a dictionary of choices in your freshman year. You can choose to party or study; go to the game or to the library; drink that one more drink or switch to water; have sex with that person or not. Binary choices. Yes or no; this or that. Choose wrong and you actually could screw up your entire future. Of course, that could never happen to you, but I watched it happen to people I knew and cared about. It only takes one bad decision and you could end up in jail, with a disease, with an unexpected baby, with a ticket out of college, or even with a headstone if it’s bad enough. Trust me on this one and don’t insist on finding out for yourself.
9. ACT LIKE YOU’VE GOT SOME SENSE. Your generation didn’t invent sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll so don’t act like you’re a rock star. For example, if you are at a party, do not, under any circumstances, drink ANYTHING offered to you unless YOU break the seal or YOU pour the drink. Once you set a drink down, consider it gone. Why waste a good drink? See #3 above. If you are tanking in a class, act like you’ve got some sense, swallow your pride, and go get help. Pride is a piss poor excuse for failing out of college. You will usually know what the right thing is to do whether you want to or not– do it. That is what acting like you’ve got some sense means.
I hope this helps some. Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.