A Speech To College Freshmen

College classes are starting again, and everywhere excited college freshmen are heading off to their new schools, accompanied by worried parents.

Every college makes a big deal about graduation and brings in big-name speakers to talk about what the graduates should do with their degrees.  I think that approach is backward.  By the time you’ve got your degree, you’ve already made a bunch of choices that have put you on a certain path.  Kids could use some honest advice at the beginning of their college career, not the end.  Here is my advice to the incoming freshman class.

Greetings, you freshmen, and welcome!  Now that you’re settled in and have met your roommates, it’s time for you to consider an important question:  are you sure you want to be here?

In case you haven’t heard about it, getting an education at a college like this one is very expensive.  Chances are that you, or your parents, are borrowing the money to pay for your chance to study in these ivy-covered buildings all around us.   Those loans are going to be with you and your family for a long time, and the need to pay back what you have borrowed may affect a lot of the choices you will be making after you graduate.  If you are taking out student loans, you may well still be repaying them when you are in your 30s, or even 40s.  So, before you make that kind of long-term commitment, think for a minute:  Are you sure you want to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to get a college degree?

If your answer to that is “yes,” then you need to think about what you can do to achieve some kind of meaningful return on your investment in yourself.  Do you have a real interest that you want to pursue, or are you here because everyone knows that a college degree helps your job prospects?  If you are in the former category, follow your interest, but do it seriously.  Don’t dabble!  Take the courses that give you the best grounding in that area of interest, get to know your professors and advisors in that area, and look carefully at the training programs and internships that are available here.  If you are in the latter category, look to take the toughest schedule you can.  Don’t avoid the math and science courses because you think they’ll be too hard.  In our world of constant technological advances, people who have some grounding in math and science are better positioned than those who never ventured outside the humanities curriculum.

And speaking of long-term consequences, try to avoid them in your personal life, too.  That means having a little self-respect, and not heading down to the 24-hour soft-serve ice cream dispenser in your dorm cafeteria every night.  In case you haven’t noticed, we have an obesity problem in this country, and you don’t want to become part of it.  Your goal should be to avoid putting on the “freshman 10” — or 15, or 20, or 25.  And if you’re given the chance to engage in underage drinking — and we all know that chance will come, don’t we? — think before you drink!  You don’t want to drink and drive, or lose control of your senses and end up with a splitting headache and hangover in a stranger’s bed, or develop a life-long drinking problem.  In short, show some self-respect!

I’ve got only one more bit of advice for you:  accept that your new roommates seem a bit weird — but also understand that you are, too.  Notwithstanding what your parents have been telling you for the last 18 years, you aren’t perfect or the pinnacle of human evolution.  You’ve got your faults and foibles and odd habits, and your roommates do, too.  Accept their idiosyncrasies, and they’ll accept yours.  As you move through life, you’ll come to realize that cheerfully accepting other people’s differences, and being able to interact civilly with them despite those differences, is one of the most important lessons you can learn.

Good luck to you all!  In today’s world, you’re going to need it.

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