“You’re about to be born,” I tell my seniors long before their high school graduation day.
“So far we’ve coddled you and kept you in diapers. Now some of you have already started living, and some of you haven’t. But you’re all about to be born.”
It confuses some of them until they’re about 19 or 20, but then it makes sense.
Some of them even get it within the first two weeks of summer after their last graduation party.
I don’t remember any advice about life from anyone for the “reality” of post-high school existence after graduation—not even from our high school graduation speaker (who, I will bet, like any grad speaker, is never listened to by anyone except for a few bored teachers in the audience).
I entered the summer of my life after high school a blank slate, ready for college, life elsewhere, and whatever life would throw at me.
I did okay. But here’s what I wish someone had told me so I could forget and figure it all out for myself.
Don’t fall in love with your first foot rub
Ah, those magical orientation days of college. Fresh faces from around the world, day trips wearing matching t-shirts, and bus rides with the best and brightest.
And the girls. Oh, the college girls.
It was on the way back from a freshmen Boston trip that a certain someone who seemed totally out of my league let me rub her feet for some reason—and I was more than willing to capture her favor.
But it ended badly, months later, after I had spent my first six weeks or so chasing her (and catching her a few times) with a wide-eyed crushed heart. She was worth it, I guess, but if I was able to tell that young me not to rush into things, I might have.
Ah, hell, he wouldn’t have listened.
Yes, you are in competition with everyone else
If you get one of those “look to your left, now look to your right—only one of you will make it to sophomore year” speeches from the dean, peer mentors, or the orientation crew, they’re right.
Most of you are going to drop out, lose your scholarships, transfer, take time off and never go back, take time off and go back in a few semesters or years, and/or finish online. And that’s fine.
But for institutions full of the best of the best of the best of the best, college isn’t just full of the best. Some of the best can’t afford it, and the rest of the best are in trade schools, the military, the work force, or waiting to finish up those expensive required classes at community, online, or state college before transferring.
Only 30-40% of freshmen become seniors in four years, and less than that finish in six years.
It is what it is, without my judgment—but that magical feeling you have during your first semester might just go away by Christmas.
I was lucky and finished in four years—but not all of my freshmen friends did, and some of my best friends never finished at all—even 20 years later—or are still finishing college credits.
Stay healthy, stay healthy, stay healthy
If you can avoid pregnancy, STIs, mononucleosis, drug and alcohol abuse and/or addiction, chronic fatigue, easily communicable diseases, homesickness, brokenheartedness, stress, anxiety, depression, and a bevy of other strange things that you may catch or pass on while living with thousands of other people, good on you.
But for the rest of us, plan ahead, use protection and preventative measures, and be prepared to get sick and make that midnight CVS run—or a few of them.
And don’t wait to get treatment, whether it’s for what you think is more than a cold or something like counseling which will only improve your health and well being the most.
Sometimes you’ll need rest and water, and sometimes you’ll need an ambulance.
Go to bed. Now.
College means non-stop parties, new interests who want to stay up and watch the sunrise, and late night cram sessions on top of all-nighters (yes, there are different categories of each). So choose your fun wisely, and make sure it is sprinkled around library and bookstore study time.
Study now and play later. Don’t let the “new Friday night” become every night.
Chances are you’re going to miss out on something, and that’s all right. Hopefully it won’t be a $60K education.
Don’t be the idiot who trained for this his whole life and had to drop out right away
However you want to take that, take it. Some kids burn out right away and some kids fall into the wrong set of addictions. And usually these kids have been training for college since pre-K.
There will be shame and embarrassment among family and friends if you flunk out of college after years of middle and high school honors and AP classes and stringent athletic, theatre, arts, music, and academic discipline.
But it will be okay. You’re only a teenager. You’re allowed a few screwups in life.
There are more than a few paths to success in life, and eventually you won’t just be that idiot who trained for this for his whole life and had to drop out. There are many roads to redemption, and failing at something when your eighteen is okay. Really. It’s okay.
College is a magical place where the future happens
It’s true. College was once something only for the richest and most privileged males who would join networks of other successful and privileged males, and the rest of us would have to work in their factories and build their railroads and knick-knacks.
But not anymore. College opened up to everyone and was once affordable, and then slowly became unaffordable. But now, thanks to online learning and progressive politicians, colleges and universities are becoming less insanely overpriced for the working family, and are still a place of excellent networks for professionals.
And living with like-minded, talented, highly intelligent, and determined people is a magical thing, even though it’s one of the hardest journeys known to humanity (until marriage, parenting, the professional workforce, your first company, and graduate or law school). You might even (like most people) meet your lifelong friends there, and become who you truly were born to be.
And about that foot rub…
Cliches to avoid in love and lust while finding your way as a developing eighteen or nineteen-year-old (or an older, bearded transfer student):
- thinking you need a romantic partner to feel complete or achieve the “college” experience
- dating the best friend of the one who is really in love with you
- hooking up with random partygoers just to “get ahead” (or to get head) in terms of your reputation
- trading going to class and studying for hooking up and/or the bar (or bong or sleep)
- falling in love too quickly
- not falling in love quickly enough
- avoiding a real relationship because of fear or embarrassment
- trapping yourself in damaging stereotypes because it’s all you’ve known
- pursuing others when you should be focusing on yourself
- taking others for granted because you’re young and invincible
- being too young to take any of this advice (the greatest cliche of all!)
All the best to you younguns!
Now get to class and if the professor isn’t there in 12 minutes, I’ll see you on the quad.