When I first arrived in my Ogg Hall dorm room at the beginning of freshman year — alone and finally on my own — I stood at the window for a good ten minutes, like a television viewer confronted with a test pattern. I knew absolutely nothing about this city, nothing about this university and was paralyzed with fear. I had treated the words of advice from SOAR guides like they were bits of radio static; most of their acronyms (GUTS, TITU, MSCS, etc.) blew by me and their talk of “diversity” and drinking only produced a few raises of the eyebrow.
However, throughout my four years at this university, every passerby, professor and panhandler has offered their advice.
And it all was pretty useless.
First, there was this gem from my SOAR peer advisor:
“Twelve credits is going to be a heavy enough load.”
Some advisors are enthusiastic overachievers who consider the raft of high school refugees another mark on their r?sum?. And some are just bitter communications arts majors who crashed and burned their first semester and don’t want you to do the same.
However, there is one thing they all get wrong: It’s not about the credits, it’s about the classes. And if someone had stopped this liberal arts major from taking Math 221, I might have saved myself a lot of trauma freshman year.
Frankly, you don’t need to be the best. If you did, you wouldn’t be reading this column, as it would take away from getting through that third GRE prep test. The biggest challenge for a freshman isn’t reaching the top of his or her class; it is staying sane.
Or sober. Which is why the pleas of “don’t drink too much” got my nod for the most meaningless phrase since “Academy award winner Ben Affleck.”
Let’s get this straight — you’re going to drink. It’s not pressure, it’s a fact. I was a complete teetotaler for two years — then I studied abroad in Italy.
Chianti and Limoncello. End of story.
I’ve had friends who abstained for a myriad reasons: one had a parent who was an alcoholic, one said they didn’t like the effects and one was a celiac who couldn’t drink any beer. All three of them drink now, despite any reservations they had previously.
Your propensity for alcohol depends on you and you alone. If you’ve never drunk before, you’re just going to have to go through the motions until you can handle your liquor. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a drunk or your mother. Or both.
If you manage to make those decisions without coercion, you’ll likely get a deluge of counselors, political activists and professors who offer any number of other useless offers and suggestions.
“Hey, you should come to our meeting/convention/seance/bible study!”
It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re doing or why. They want you. Socialists, bible studiers, anime fans, Hoofers — they all assume you might be persuaded to join their cause. So you’ll go. And you’ll cringe and leave. And you’ll have to see them on the street a week later and come up with some excuse that provides eight seconds of awkward silence as they try to stare you into guilt. This will happen at least five more times.
“Cramming for finals doesn’t work.”
Try and tell that to every liberal arts student at this university.
“Want a free sub?”
Want years of credit problems?
“I think you’d be a good fit for this major.”
This statement usually comes shortly after you mumble your way through a half-hearted commitment to a vague skill — “I like to write,” “I play guitar,” “I think a lot” — after which someone in a specific field of study suggests you’d be good for that field, regardless of whether you’re interested in it. You might think you do, until you explain your newfound interest in this major to your roommate and realize you’re not completely sure what a Geographic Information Systems major does — or why you’d be good at it.
Advice is good in many situations — financial, medical and psychological problems all qualify –but for all the people ready to offer you a few pointers, there is only piece of advice that works well.
Do what you want.
So many new students come here having been directed their whole life on how to live. With many American parents serving as the overbearing Polonius to millions of gender-neutral Ophelias, it’s no wonder some students come here and don’t know how to cook their own food, let alone what they’re going to do with their life.
The only way that people truly learn is through experience. And while there are a million resources for you at this university, the best thing you can do for yourself is to trust your own instincts. Walk into organizations because you want to, take classes on a whim and talk to whoever strikes your interest.
Not all advice is worthless. When you are looking for that perfect date restaurant or the one excellent and decipherable calculus professor, the suggestions of friends and experts can point you in the right direction.
However, you have to chart the path first. So instead of looking for reassurances, have some confidence in your own abilities.
After all, it’s only college.
Jason Smathers ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and history.