Eye On The Ball; Attention ’98 grads: A few things not to do in college
I recently attended Truckee High’s graduation ceremonies and was impressed. Mostly I was impressed to find there still is a sun in the sky and it’s getting over that shyness thing. But I was also impressed by the unbridled optimism of the graduates about their futures.
See, I’d lost some of that optimism because I’ve graduated from college and already had about a dozen careers. So here I offer, based my experiences, both positive and disappointing, advice on college and life. Take heed, young grads, this sage, old man in his mid-20s has lived a lot.
— Yourself – At 18, you are the absolute center of the universe. The sun, the moon, the stars all revolve around you. The world is your oyster and under it lurks a bright, shiny pearl. Yeah, right. Sit down, kids. I’ll break the news to you gently; life is challenging.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have all the things you always wanted. Life can often be more exciting than you ever thought. It’s just that the obstacles are set up to kick you down and many people don’t accept the challenge. Often, the fun comes from the little things, not the grand accomplishments which fade away like the print on that Paula Abdul T-shirt you owned in 1990.
For the last 18 years, most of you have lived in a world called Fantasy Land. Well, guess what? The park is closing this fall and management is kicking all the little kids out. It’s time to enter a place called Reality World where you have to buy your own tickets for the rides.
— That said, college isn’t really reality – it’s controlled reality, a weaning of sorts. You have responsibilities you never had before, like washing your clothes once a month and calling home when you need cash to pay off the $3,000 credit card bill you amassed in your first six weeks away from home. Sure, the $400 lava lamp and $600 bass box for you car sounded like good ideas at the time, but now you’re paying the piper. Piece of advice No. 1: avoid credit cards. Eight years after the fact, I’m still paying those little buggers off. You want to guess what the APR on a 19-year-old’s credit card is? Try 21 percent.
— Decisions – You’ll face some seriously tough ones, like should I go to class or stay in and watch Live With Regis and Kathie Lee? Sure, you make fun now, but wait until you have a 7:30 a.m. class and there’s no Mommie there to wake you up. And don’t even think of asking her to give you a wake-up call every morning. She’s worked hard and deserves a little beauty rest, got it?
— Food – You’ll forget all about nutrition, even if you are on the meal plan. I gained 30 pounds my freshman year, because in the lunch buffet you can have pizza, hamburgers, Jello pudding pops, banana pudding, ice cream, chocolate cake, double chocolate cake, brownies and Cool Whip to top any or all of these things, including the pizza and hamburgers. Someone forgot to tell me just because it’s there, you don’t have to take it. It’ll still be there when you come back.
— Roommates – Listen carefully, dear graduates. For the next year, you will live with a person or people who will teach you more about life, the world and bad hygiene than any other experience you’ve ever had. First of all, you take two or three 18-year-olds and put them in a dorm room the size of a can of tuna, you’re going to find a place dirtier and more foul-smelling than Scottie Pippen’s socks in a Tunisian sauna in July.
Secondly, it’s true that giving college freshmen any amount of freedom is like giving Clinton a gift certificate to the Mustang Ranch on a weekend when Hillary is away at the Eco-Summit in Sao Paolo and asking him to work on the deficit all the while.
So it’s not a stretch to imagine college kids doing crazy things. Darren, a friend of mine from home, once lived in a college apartment located improbably next to a large water tower which had the school’s name on it. Which reminds me of the story of the guy who climbed an electrical tower with a six-pack of Schlitz, and when he relieved himself was fried to a crisp.
But anyway, whenever we would visit, we would invariably tie one on and Darren would start climbing the tower. I held my breath as he made it halfway up, determined to make it to the top. I’m still not sure if he ever did make it up there, but he’ll be one of my groomsmen in my wedding in three weeks, so I’ll be sure to ask him.
Incidentally, Darren and I once hatched a plan to hobo across the United States. Seems there are books and websites out there describing how to jump freighters without getting caught. At 20, it seemed like an acceptable thing to do, but believe me, you’ll change.
— Classes – College classes aren’t too similar to high school classes.
In high school I remember the teacher getting off on tangents and spending an entire period talking about their weekend or the previous night’s Lakers’ game (not that they do that here).
In college, things are a little different. While a high school teacher may, in fact be a coach who works on game plans while you chat with your pals, college professors are overzealous people impassioned about whatever they’re teaching (and no, we never called them “Profs,” so get over it).
Here’s the biggest trick I learned in college that got me on the Dean’s List with a 4.0 more than once: professors are egomaniacs who need said ego stroked and caressed. I’m not talking about brown-nosing; that’s more transparent than a vodka tonic with a splash of mineral water. I’m talking about listening. And showing up. Ninety-nine percent of life, you will find, is just showing up.
What you do is this: amidst the professor’s self-indulgent monologue, discerning listeners will hear the speaker’s true opinions on subjects. For instance, in a history class lecture on Vietnam you’ll figure out whether the professor was actually on the front lines of the war or was at home trying to figure out if Jimi Hendrix really was saying, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.”
More than likely, the latter will be the case. Learn this from me: emulate your professor’s opinions in the papers you write for the class. Don’t quote him directly, but validate his opinions and rantings in your papers and no matter how disjointed the piece is or whether it was written on institutional-grade toilet paper, you’re virtually guaranteed an A.
They may be trying to indoctrinate you, but you’re just trying to stay awake and pass the class.
Doesn’t matter if you vehemently disagree with him, just restate what he said in class and you’ll breeze through those types of classes. By the way, this method works with English, Political Science, Anthropology (I can still pick out an Australopitichus man from 500 yards on one of those evolution charts), Psychology and Sociology.
Now there will be classes like these you won’t want to take. You’ll say, “I know what I want to major in, why do I have to learn about Whigs and Torries?” Well, here is where you get to the meat of college. College is little more than a metaphor for life. In life, you have to do more crap to please other people than you can ever imagine. Then, for what seems like five minutes at the end, you get to do the stuff you want to do. What makes the difference is what you do with that five minutes. You can end up jaded and disillusioned and say “who cares anymore?” or you can excel. Chose the latter and you’ll be a lot happier in life.
— Your parents – Amazing how they change, isn’t it? Those of you who’ve already been off to college know exactly what I’m talking about. Mark Twain once said something like, “When I was 18, my father’s stupidity astounded me. But when I returned home at 22, I was amazed to see how much the old man had learned.” It’s not a direct quote, but it’s close and it drives a point home.
Right now, most of you probably see your parents as bumbling, slack-jawed mouth-breathing idiots; who knows where they’d be without you. A year or two paying your own bills and having only macaroni and cheese for dinner will make you appreciate their dedication to your well-being. Once when we were really on the skids, my roommate asked if you could make mac and cheese with water in the place of milk. Well, we found out you can, but probably shouldn’t. It just isn’t right.
Lastly, remember you come full circle in life, so go easy on yourself and cherish the people and places you have around you at any given time. The search is usually more fun than the actual destination.
College contains my fondest memories. Even though I always knew I would be a writer, college gave me the tools to actually go out there and do it. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where I learned more outside the classroom than in it. It’s where I saw friends succeed and fail. It’s the place that taught me often the world really is bigger than just me. It’s where the person I am today was truly shaped. And it’s where I return to every year or so and stand there, actually proud of something I’ve done. I look around at the fresh, young faces entering the greatest time of their lives and think, “what a long, strange trip that was.”
And I’m glad to be able to say that.
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