I wrote this entry in 2006 while working at MIT. As it is based entirely on my experience at Oberlin, I've decided to archive it here as well. Hope you enjoy it.
Dear Incoming Freshmen,
As you begin your college experience (and I return to my alma mater in a different role), I offer you these things that, in retrospect, I think are important as you navigate the next four years. I hope that some of them are helpful.
- Your friends will change a lot over the next four years. Let them.
- Call someone you love back home a few times a week, even if just for a few minutes.
- In college more than ever before, songs will attach themselves to memories. Every month or two, make a mix cd, mp3 folder, whatever - just make sure you keep copies of these songs. Ten years out, they'll be as effective as a journal in taking you back to your favorite moments.
- Take naps in the middle of the afternoon with reckless abandon.
- Adjust your schedule around when you are most productive and creative. If you're nocturnal and do your best work late at night, embrace that. It may be the only time in your life when you can.
- If you write your best papers the night before they are due, don't let people tell you that you "should be more organized" or that you "should plan better." Different things work for different people. Personally, I worked best under pressure - so I always procrastinated... and always kicked ass (which annoyed my friends to no end). ;-) Experiment and see what works best for you.
- At least a few times in your college career, do something fun and irresponsible when you should be studying. The night before my freshman year psych final, my roommate somehow scored front row seats to the Indigo Girls at a venue 2 hours away. I didn't do so well on the final, but I haven't thought about psych since 1993. I've thought about the experience of going to that show (with the guy who is now my son's godfather) at least once a month ever since.
- Become friends with your favorite professors. Recognize that they can learn from you too - in fact, that's part of the reason they chose to be professors.
- Carve out an hour every single day to be alone. (Sleeping doesn't count.)
- Go on dates. Don't feel like every date has to turn into a relationship.
- Don't date someone your roommate has been in a relationship with.
- When your friends' parents visit, include them. You'll get free food, etc., and you'll help them to feel like they're cool, hangin' with the hip college kids.
- In the first month of college, send a hand-written letter to someone who made college possible for you and describe your adventures thus far. It will mean a lot to him/her now, and it will mean a lot to you in ten years when he/she shows it to you.
- Embrace the differences between you and your classmates. Always be asking yourself, "what can I learn from this person?" More of your education will come from this than from any classroom.
- All-nighters are entirely overrated.
- For those of you who have come to college in a long-distance relationship with someone from high school: despite what many will tell you, it can work. The key is to not let your relationship interfere with your college experience. If you don't want to date anyone else, that's totally fine! What's not fine, however, is missing out on a lot of defining experiences because you're on the phone with your boyfriend/girlfriend for three hours every day.
- Working things out between friends is best done in person, not over email. (IM does not count as "in person.") Often someone's facial expressions will tell you more than his/her words.
- Take risks.
- Don't be afraid of (or excited by) the co-ed bathrooms. The thrill is over in about 2 seconds.
- Wednesday is the middle of the week; therefore on wednesday night the week is more than half over. You should celebrate accordingly. (It makes thursday and friday a lot more fun.)
- Welcome failure into your lives. It's how we grow. What matters is not that you failed, but that you recovered.
- Take some classes that have nothing to do with your major(s), purely for the fun of it.
- It's important to think about the future, but it's more important to be present in the now. You won't get the most out of college if you think of it as a stepping stone.
- When you're living on a college campus with 400 things going on every second of every day, watching TV is pretty much a waste of your time and a waste of your parents' money. If you're going to watch, watch with friends so at least you can call it a "valuable social experience."
- Don't be afraid to fall in love. When it happens, don't take it for granted. Celebrate it, but don't let it define your college experience.
- Much of the time you once had for pleasure reading is going to disappear. Keep a list of the books you would have read had you had the time, so that you can start reading them when you graduate.
- Things that seem like the end of the world really do become funny with a little time and distance. Knowing this, forget the embarassment and skip to the good part.
- Every once in awhile, there will come an especially powerful moment when you can actually feel that an experience has changed who you are. Embrace these, even if they are painful.
- No matter what your political or religious beliefs, be open-minded. You're going to be challenged over the next four years in ways you can't imagine, across all fronts. You can't learn if you're closed off.
- If you need to get a job, find something that you actually enjoy. Just because it's work doesn't mean it has to suck.
- Don't always lead. It's good to follow sometimes.
- Take a lot of pictures. One of my major regrets in life is that I didn't take more pictures in college. My excuse was the cost of film and processing. Digital cameras are cheap and you have plenty of hard drive space, so you have no excuse.
- Your health and safety are more important than anything.
- Ask for help. Often.
- Half of you will be in the bottom half of your class at any given moment. Way more than half of you will be in the bottom half of your class at some point in the next four years. Get used to it.
- In ten years very few of you will look as good as you do right now, so secretly revel in how hot you are before it's too late.
- In the long run, where you go to college doesn't matter as much as what you do with the opportunities you're given there. A college's name on your resume won't mean much if that's the only thing on your resume. As a student here, you will have access to a variety of unique opportunities that no one else will ever have - don't waste them.
- On the flip side, don't try to do everything. Balance = well-being.
- Make perspective a priority. If you're too close to something to have good perspective, rely on your friends to help you.
- Eat badly sometimes. It's the last time in your life when you can do this without feeling guilty about it.
- Make a complete ass of yourself at least once, preferably more. It builds character.
- Wash your sheets more than once a year. Trust me on this one.
- If you are in a relationship and none of your friends want to hang out with you and your significant other, pay attention. They usually know better than you do.
- Don't be afraid of the weird pizza topping combinations that your new friend from across the country loves. Some of the truly awful ones actually taste pretty good. Expand your horizons.
- Explore the campus thoroughly. Don't get caught.
- Life is too short to stick with a course of study that you're no longer excited about. Switch, even if it complicates things.
- Tattoos are permanent. Be very certain.
- Don't make fun of prefrosh. That was you like 2 hours ago.
- Enjoy every second of the next four years. It is impossible to describe how quickly they pass.
- This is the only time in your lives when your only real responsibility is to learn. Try to remember how lucky you are every day.
Be yourself. Create. Inspire, and be inspired. Grow. Laugh. Learn. Love.
Welcome to some of the best years of your lives.