1. Make new friends. You can never have too many, and you might mean the world to someone who doesn’t have very many. The friends you make in college can last your entire life.
2. Don’t forsake your family even though you’re gone. Write letters. Call once in a while. Do little things to make sure your parents don’t feel you’ve forgotten them.
3. Do things that scare you. Always fancied yourself a swing dancer? There’s a club for that, and you’d best join it. Scares you to death? Even better. We transform into newer, better versions of ourselves when we do scary things. We grow. Our eyes and hearts open wider when they’re scared, and usually, they don’t close back up again.
4. Don’t get tied to the classroom. Learning takes place everywhere. Find a study hole. Go to the library. You never know where you might learn best.
5. Find a sport. Intramurals, the gym, or hiking in the great outdoors. You’re entering adulthood and it’s time to treat your body nicely so that, in return, it’s nice to you as you age. Be active.
6. Go to events on campus, even if they sound lame. No one is “cool” so just abandon that thought in its entirety. If you like playing poker and there’s a poker night for incoming freshmen, GO, for god’s sake. Sure, it’ll be a bit corny, but you might meet some cool people.
7. Keep your door open. Literally and figuratively. If you’re in your dorm room and you’re not fast at work, prop the door open. Smile at people. Be an inviting human being. You never know where it might take you or what opportunities it might present.
8. Speak up. If there are try outs for a play, calls for submissions for the Lit Mag, openings for the school paper, or internships for sports medicine, go out for it! You might not have loads of experience, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
9. Leave the past behind. Should you be attending university with people you know from home, leave their past behind, too. Part of being an adult is understanding that everyone deserves the right to start over, including yourself. Don’t let old confines hold you back from anything or anyone that you want to be.
10. Work hard. Unfortunately, we live in a world where you’ve got to be good on paper as well as dynamic in person. Always be able to prove how smart, ambitious, and hard-working you are in examples. Don’t rely on your good word to prove it. If you want to run a concert venue, get involved with the concerts committee on campus. Prove your worth and your smarts. You’ll thank yourself later. Prove your interests and your passions.
11. Spend time with yourself. If there’s a film you’re dying to see and no one else wants to go, go by yourself. Hungry but everyone’s occupied? Go get food. One of the most liberating feelings in life is being able to enjoy something on your own. Enjoy the things you like with the person you will spend the most time with in your life; yourself.
12. Celebrate your successes! Send your parents, mentors, siblings, and/or friends messages about a good grade in a class or encouragement from a professor. Chances are, those who love you will delight in your success with you, and that is fantastic. Too often, we only communicate when things are wrong or we need help. Celebrating successes will spur you on to further success, and those you share it with will greatly appreciate it (especially grandparents!).
13. Celebrate the successes of others. Nothing feels better than making a friend or colleague in your department feel good about something they’ve accomplished. Go to readings, support those around you, and don’t be afraid to say ‘congratulations.’ Joy is worth spreading, and it feels good to let someone else know that they’ve done well. Especially in academia, celebrating achievements is so important to the people we work with and care about.
14. Treat yourself once in a while. Life is so very short, and when you’re working hard, it’s important to make exceptions to your daily routine. Indulge a little, and savor the moments when you do. Whether it’s a few moments of relaxing, dinner with your friends when you maybe/probably should be reading, getting out of town for the day, or buying yourself something impractical or spendy, don’t deny yourself things you value. It sounds silly, but there is value in breaking a strict routine to let yourself breathe.
15. Take responsibility. It’s never too early to learn the art of the graceful apology. When you do something wrong (like forget a group presentation or botch your part) or step out of bounds, apologize. Don’t make excuses. Look whoever it is directly in the eyes and admit that you messed up. When you say the words “there’s no excuse,” don’t follow that with excuses. There will be so many times in life when you will need to apologize, will need to mean it, and will need to spare the other person your (very validating) excuses.
16. Keep track of birthdays. People have kept track of your birthday your whole life, and now it’s your turn to step up to the bat. Send birthday cards or at least call. Start making a calendar of birthdays in your family and those of your friends, and make those days special.
17. Go after what you want. You have once chance. That’s it. If there is something you want in life, do everything you can to achieve it. Don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t because that’s crap. You can if you work hard and don’t quit. Even if you fail along the way, at least you will know you tried everything you could. It’s the not trying that will get to you.
18. Don’t follow anyone else’s lead. Someone else’s path will lead them to their life, not yours. Don’t compromise your beliefs or goals to suit someone else. Make the decisions that are right for YOU.
19. Age means nothing. If you want a certain degree or career, don’t let years or the age you’ll be when you finish deter you. The years will pass anyways, regardless of whether you’re chasing that dream or not.
20. Be positive. The world is a negative place on its own, so keep up the energy to be positive. It’s worth it.
21. Have high expectations for yourself. Even if your parents, friends, professors, or relatives don’t have high expectations of you, have them for yourself. If you don’t expect yourself to do well, who will?
22. “Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the fuck you were gonna do anyways.” – Robert Downey Jr. People (including me) will constantly try to give you advice to live the best, most fulfilling life possible, but they’re often wrong. You have to stay true to yourself, whatever that means. Make your own rules, but make sure you can live with them.
Sometimes my students don’t have the support they need, and I wish it was within my power to supplement it for them. They deserve it. It’s easy to get disillusioned with the youth of today, but the truth is that every generation of young people has faults (but perhaps not all generations’ faults were documented with social media). I believe in my students. I have met and worked with so many who will change the world. I hope they remember that they are capable of greatness, and that they rise to the challenge of fixing some of the problems the world has left them with.