Dear college students, As I have noted many times before, I have spent the bulk of my adult life working with kids. Oh so many kids! At most of my many stops along the “working with kids” path, however, the kids in question have been actual kids. Like, 4 to 12 years old. This year, partly through my job and partly through general church-y activities, I’ve had the good fortune of getting to spend a little time with you, older teenagers and borderline adults, many of whom are heading off to college this weekend. You’ve worked for me, you’ve coached teams for me, you’ve babysat my kid, you’ve thrown parties at my house while I wasn’t home and left me sopapilla cheesecake for my trouble, and you’ve come over to watch 90’s movies that in hind sight might not have been as appropriate as I thought they were. I’ve gotten to know you through these various activities and honestly, these interactions have helped me hang on to whatever is left of my youth during a year that has featured many events that have left me feeling quite old. (My hip started hurting this year, guys. My hip. I’m 31. That’s far too early for hip pain to set in.)
It’s an American tradition for older generations to bemoan the state of up and coming generations. “They’re disrespectful of their elders”, we say. “They don’t listen!” “They’re so wild compared to my generation!” “They can’t spell!” “They listen to Florida Georgia Line and they LIKE IT!” (Okay so maybe those last two complaints come directly from me.) And I get it. The news is full of horrific stories of misspent youth and social media often frames young users in the worst light possible. But I’m pretty sure the generation before mine said the same things about my generation and we’re not so bad. (Though we did help Nickleback become the biggest band in the world so maybe they were right about us.) And if the group of teens I’ve been around this year is any indication, the future is in good hands.
So let me take this opportunity to tell you how awesome you are and what a blessing I know you are going to be to this world. If you’ll let me, dear teenagers, I’d love to give you just a tiny bit of advice for your rapidly approaching college careers. To do this, I’m going to enlist the help of some of my younger kids, who spent an afternoon this summer writing 300 notes of encouragement/advice to you. These cards will make their way into care packages during the school year (so be on the lookout for those) but a couple of them are just too good to not share with everyone. I hope you’ll take these 10 pieces of advice with the mix of humor and truth that is intended.
1. Get involved This one gets tossed around a lot and so I’m sure you’ve heard it from at least 100,000 people by now. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I’m an introvert by nature and when I was in college, I let the awkwardness or discomfort of social situations hold me back when I should have been charging full speed ahead. Meet all the new people you can meet, go to the dumb functions in the first weeks of school, pledge a club/frat or don’t, it doesn’t really matter, because there’s a group for everyone at every college so find where you fit (or, if you’re one of those people that’s looking to reinvent him/herself in college, then where you WANT to fit) and be active.
2. Find the good jobs If you’re one of the lucky few who won’t have to work at all during the school year, then bully for you. I was able to pull this feat off for one glorious year and then the dream was over. But if you do have to work, be on the lookout for the jobs that will kill neither your study time nor your activity time. Generally speaking, campus jobs that do not involve the cafeteria or actually mopping floors are the best and if you can grab a spot as a hall/lab/lobby monitor, you will literally get paid to study and/or watch TV. It’s the best of both worlds.
3. Grow a mustache and go to college This advice only applies to guys. Hopefully. Seriously, though, grow that crazy college beard, bros! This is the one time in your life you can try something dumb with your hair/facial hair without people (read: “me”) mocking you (too harshly). One time my friend Jeff grew a beard and guess what, it was AWESOME! I still talk about how awesome Bearded Jeff was.
4. Take your time but don’t over borrow Your parents may HATE ME for saying this but it’s okay if it takes you an extra semester (or two) to graduate. Seriously. Take the course load that you can handle and still experience college, not the one you need to absolutely graduate in three or four years. Avoid dropping classes or paying for classes you don’t need and/or don’t go to. If I would’ve just accepted from the get-go that I wasn’t going to finish in four years, I would’ve been much better off. And seriously guys, borrow only as much as you actually need. If you ever need proof of how dumb my “drop at least one class every semester” plan was, I’d love to tell you what I pay each month for student loans if you’ll promise to hug me while I cry.
5. Stay in touch with your high school friends but don’t get stuck in high school Many of you have been friends forever and there’s no reason you should completely bail on those friendships just because you’re going off to different schools. But the truth is, you are going to drift apart from some of your closest friends. And that’s okay. I am still very close to my two best friends from high school but most of the others have been relegated to "Facebook friend only" status. There is no greater drag than the guy who wants to relive high school all the time because he never made any meaningful connections in the years following.
6. Remember to eat and wear clothes…that’s important too…
I cannot stress enough how important it is that you wear clothes and eat food in college.
7. Don’t stay if it's not the right fit This is a really difficult piece of advice to act on but no less important. Do your best to get involved, to find your group, to discover your passion in life, and establish yourself at your school. But if it’s not working, if you don’t love being at your chosen school, it’s okay to move on somewhere else. I loved my freshman year of college but in my second year I really started to feel out of place and in hindsight, I wish I would’ve transferred to another school where I might have found a better fit. Don’t be afraid to go elsewhere if that’s what needs to happen.
8. Buy your own toilet paper Look, I get it, you’re a poor college student. You need to cut costs wherever possible. But the savings you get by utilizing the school-provided 1.5 ply sandpaper they call toilet paper is not worth it. TRUST ME.
9. Don’t get married in college! (Really don’t do it)
I think this one pretty much speaks for itself.
10. Do good College can be the absolute best time of your life and you may never again have the kind of freedom you’ll have over the next 4-6 years. Oh to nap at 2 pm every day! Make the most of it. Create connections, build relationships, have fun, all of that stuff. But also stay true to yourself and remember who and what you represent. In the words of Mr. Feeney, “Do good.”
Hopefully I don’t have to tell you to not wear your letter jacket on campus, Brian