I am taking my younger boy, Sam, to his freshman year of college today. Four years ago, his older brother, Nikko, took off on his own, only to have me follow him up a couple of days later to see what was up. He was the only person in the residence hall! Dark and cavernous halls I walked through to his room where I asked him pointedly just what the hell was going on!?! Having checked the materials I noted that the residence was open to accommodate special programs, such as Women in Engineering, but I knew that Nikko was not involved in any of them. The standard move in date was not yet for a couple of days. Turns out he had communicated with someone on Facebook who was in one of those programs and he was eager to meet her. I took him to lunch and bought him a mini-refrigerator.
Thank heavens Sam is allowing me the privilege of taking him to college in old fashioned way: car loaded to the gills, going up the night before to have some breathing room in the schedule, and then full entry into what inevitably will be the chaos of cars, parents, roommates, too many accouterments and – this is the good news in my book – a third roommate from mainland China to meet! Here is the one catch: Sam has his own car, so we are deprived of the three-hour ride together to talk. Consequently, the other day when we went golfing seemed a good time.
A little bit OCD when it comes to lists, I decided before I even knew what I was going to say exactly that there would be five points.
Academics first! Residential college experience for traditional aged students is a learning experience in so many ways, but it is also true that in college one begins a record from which there are fewer escapes going forward in life. “No one will care about your high school performance once you have a college record, Sam. Make it count.”
Next, “Don’t be a fool.” This was an omnibus rule designed to incorporate everything from don’t let people take advantage of you to personal safety.
Third, a specific related to first: stay on top of your courses, don’t wait until the last minute to write a paper or cram for a test. The father of one of Sam’s friends who teaches at Ithaca College said it best. Known for being exacting, he tells his students at the beginning of the semester to imagine that the work they must do is a big pile of bricks. If you wait until the end of the semester to start to move the pile from one place to the next, you can’t do it, and you break your back trying. But if every day you move a few bricks, by the end of the semester the work is done.
Fourth, try new things. That is what college is for! Don’t stay in your “comfort zone” of friendships, academics or extra-curricular activities. I was very, very fortunate that due to my activities “on the left” in college, student leaders approached me to run for a student political office. That experience changed my life and opened doors I did not even know existed. I reminded him of that trajectory of my life. One cannot always rely on luck … sometimes it takes pluck!
Fifth: Be a good citizen. This one covers a myriad of potential vices and possible virtues. Observe the rules including and especially Academic Integrity and the Code of Conduct. The Golden Rule made an appearance in my statement. Act with integrity and respect. Think for yourself. Develop personal autonomy while living your social self (Sam has tremendous emotional intelligence as a starting point in life, god bless.) Fundamental point: Be engaged and participate in this process, which, although it is labeled college, is the beginning of your adult life.
I might not have been as melodious as Polonius, but I gave it my best! (And see, Sam, I even wrote it down for you at your request J)