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An Open Letter to First-Year College Students

lanyards-non-breakaway-5-81Dear first-year student,

What I remember most about my first week of college was lanyards; the string that students wore around their necks to hold their student ID and room key. They were useful for at least two reasons: (1) they kept important items close and (relatively) safe and (2) they identified all of the other nervous, confused and anxious first-year students. We ran in packs and swung our IDs around our necks like a tetherball. I also remember how different things seemed to be. Everything was new: schedules with a bit too much free time, classes that didn’t meet every day, and something called a syllabus.

I’m sure you’ve received a lot of advice over the past few weeks from family and friends about how to make the most of the college years. I hesitate to offer more. I know how easy it can be for it to go in one ear and out the other. But the truth is we all want you to succeed and do well. It is, after all, a privilege to go to college and we don’t want you to waste the great gift that you have been given.

Here are three quotes for you to consider as you begin your first year of college. I hope you can find some time to reflect during the busy first week. May these quotes guide your next four years:

“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” – Dean Vernon Wormer

Now that’s some good, straight forward advice right there! The quote comes from the movie Animal House and here’s the main reason I offer it to you: It’s a reminder that this stage of life is formative. You will make decisions every day that will shape your character. But don’t just take my word for it. Spider-Man’s uncle, Ben Parker, knew a thing or two about the college years as well. He offered this advice to his nephew Peter:

“These are the years when a man changes into the man he’s going to become for the rest of his life; just be careful who you change into.” – Uncle Ben Parker

Just be careful who you change into… This is not to say that college shouldn’t be fun. And, of course, you will make mistakes and bad decisions. But remember, that’s all part of the “character forming” process as well. Being attentive to the kind of person you are becoming, admitting mistakes and learning from failure may not be bullet points that build a resume, but it is the foundation that builds a life.

Speaking of how to build a life…

“The best thing that anybody ever said to me is that you’re only as good as the people you associate with. Look at the five friends that you spend the most time with—that’s who you are.” – Will Smith

There you have it… advice from a fictitious Dean, a superhero’s uncle and now the Fresh Prince. Not only do you need to pay attention to your own character, but you need to be sure to surround yourself with a good cast of characters as well. Choose wisely.

College is a gift and a remarkable opportunity. It will be a formative, transformational time in your life. May you make the most of the time you’ve been given.

All the best –

Derek

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