Hats off to you, Sarah. You've come a long way, and you still have a long way to go.
She's off to college now. Her cousin David, a recent college graduate, gave her a graduation card in which he listed some wonderful college-bound advice: "Things I Wish I'd Known." Attend classes and pay attention. Get involved in campus activities. Leave your dorm room door open all the time, unless you have a good reason to close it. Spend time with your college friends - they are likely to be your friends for life, but the time you have with them, young, single, and carefree, is probably limited to four short years, and those years will go quickly.
I have a few things to add to David's list. I've been thinking these over, mulling them around in my head, since I recently attended my 25th college reunion. (More on that, maybe, in a later post.) Here are my thoughts for Sarah and her friends, as they embark on their new adventures.
1. Get to know your professors. Do not be intimidated by them. Ask them questions, and interact with them as much as you can. They are experts in their fields, and they know a great deal about things you want to know about. They are there to teach you, and you are there to learn.
2. Take a wide variety of classes. Don't box yourself in too early. Sure, if you're pre-med or an engineer, you'll have requirements to fulfill, but branch out as much as you can. You might discover a new field that you love.
3. Do not listen to people who ask what you're majoring in and then, with eyebrows raised, ask, "How are you going to make a living at THAT?" If you major in something you love and then pursue it after school, you'll be doing something you love for a living. In no time at all, you'll be far ahead of 90% of the eyebrow-raisers.
4. Your classmates are part of your education. Try to make friends who are different from you. Chances are that people have come from all over to study at your college. Don't hang out exclusively with people of your own ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic background.
5. If you experience academic trouble at any point, seek help right away. Go to the professor first, and then to the academic support center if necessary (every school has one). Do not sit alone in the dark and think you can muddle through on your own. You will not be the first person ever to seek help. There are many people who will be more than happy to help you.
6. Take risks and chances. Not the jumping-off-the-bridge type, but the studying-abroad and taking-a-part-time-job type. Some of these opportunities will give you wonderful experiences and will never arise again in your lifetime.
7. Come home at the holidays. If you have a friend who is too far from home to get back to his or her family, bring him or her along. There's always room for one more.
8. Take good care of yourself physically. The temptation to party hard and get no sleep will always be there, but remember that you are not doing yourself a favor by abusing your body. Eat well and stay active, and keep the, um, indulgences to a minimum.
9. Take advantage of whatever your school has to offer. A great art museum? A famous computer center? A world-renowned Hemingway expert? Political debates? Whatever it is, show up from time to time and see what it's about.
10. Finally, remember that a lot of love and effort has gone into getting you safely from the bassinet to the dorm room. Your safety is out of our hands now and entirely in yours. Honor us by being careful. Use your good judgment at all times. Travel in (sober) groups, especially at night. Follow your gut instincts, which are usually right.
Do you have more advice for Sarah and her classmates? I'd love to hear it.