I’ll be attending my pandemic-delayed 50th college reunion in a couple of weeks, so I’ve recently been thinking a lot about my college years. During the past half century, college life has changed a lot, of course. Today, the students, teachers and course offerings are more diverse, the facilities are more elegant, the intellectual resources are more abundant, and the cafeteria cuisine is mercifully more varied, appealing and nutritious. Not to mention those incredible fitness centers! (All we in the Class of 1970 had were barbells.)
Nevertheless, much about the educational, social and psychological experience of college remains largely the same. So, at the risk of sounding like Polonius, the sententious advice-giver in “Hamlet” (“to thine own self be true”), I thought I’d share some suggestions, both profound and practical, that might be useful in college.
• Show Up
One of the first differences you’ll notice between KO and college is that you aren’t required to go to class. While this perk might seem like a wonderful opportunity to pick and choose which classes to attend, to sleep late in the morning or take long walks in the afternoon, in fact, skipping classes can be devastating to your learning and academic success.
Nothing in college is more important than interacting with your classmates in discussions and absorbing the passion and energy of brilliant and dynamic professors. Jump into the conversation, ask questions, argue. In person, face-to-face.
Moreover, your consistent, dedicated and active presence will energize you as well as your classmates. They’ll notice, and so will your professor. To thine own self, be there.
• Forge Friendships
You’ll meet a lot of fellow students in college, of course, and only a few of them will likely become close friends. But a few is enough! I’m still in touch regularly with four lifelong friends from college, and during the past 50 years they’ve provided me with support, advice, terrific adventures and a lot of laughs.
Find your kindred spirits and, to quote aforementioned Polonius, “Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.” As you age, you’ll discover that the love and friendship of people who knew you well when you were young – parents, siblings, childhood friends, classmates, teammates – is one of the richest experiences of life. Some of the most delightful conversations you’ll ever have will begin with the words, “Remember the time . . .?”
• Work Out
Many of you will get plenty of exercise by playing an interscholastic or intramural sport in college, but during the off-season, be sure to engage regularly in some form of physical activity that raises your pulse and strengthens your pecs. Go to the gym, swim in the pool, run through the woods.
Keeping active will enhance, not only your physical health, but your mental health as well. Taking an invigorating break from academics for a while will refresh your spirit and energize your mind and spirit so you’ll be fresher and sharper when you hit the books again.
(Question: Do kids still use the expression “hit the books?”)
• Try It
As soon as you step on campus, you’ll be offered an amazing smorgasbord of new opportunities, whether it’s a film club, an outing group, a musical ensemble, a political advocacy organization, or a rugby team. If you’d always wanted to be on the KO News but never found the time, write for the college newspaper. If you’ve always played basketball but wanted to try ice hockey, give the intramural hockey league a shot. If you were too shy to audition for a KO play, try out for the next production of the college drama society. Who knows, maybe you’ll get to play the role of Polonius in “Hamlet.”
• Plant Your Flag
After all these lofty, overarching pronouncements, I want to leave you with one very practical suggestion. On the day before your classes begin, seek out and visit the room where each of your classes will be held. Knowing exactly where the room is will alleviate your stress on the first day of class, and if the room is open – whether it’s a seminar room, a lecture hall or a laboratory – enter it, look around, plant your feet firmly on the floor, and say, “I’m going to take this course by storm.” Works wonders!