Thursday, August 18, 2011

The League's Guide for Incoming Freshmen

This week students are arriving on campus at the university where I work.  I work in a building (a library) where I studied as an undergraduate.  This building is across the street from the building I lived in with 2,999 of my fellow students, and where I now eat lunch about 2-3 times per week.  

When I left high school and entered the wide-world of higher education, it was quite a change for your humble blogger.  I was leaving a world in which I'd achieved academic success mostly by following the rules and bullshitting when I did not, but doing it with humility and a pleasing smile that seemed to keep me from getting my head lopped off on the many, many occasions that should have done me in.

College provided me with a new set of circumstances, new people with new perspectives, teachers no longer working from a regionally approved curricula nor with fear that saying things displeasing to the local moral majority would cost them their job.  But, I also left the comfy nest of a home provided me by KareBear and The Admiral, a place where meals were provided, laundry magically happened, and as long as I did my homework, promised to go to college, occasionally did the lawn and didn't get anybody pregnant, I was able to enjoy the benevolence of those who might smite me.  But it wasn't exactly training for college.

I attended the University of Texas, my incoming class becoming part of what was a roughly 48,000 person student body, which would jump to 51,000 before I'd departed with 5 years and 2 degrees under my belt and the perspective and philosophy that comes with time spent in a city-state dedicated to creating the educated individuals of tomorrow.  I never didn't love the institution.  Instead, despite the rough first two years I spent at the bottom of the GPA pool, I figured out how, at last, to get out of the school what it was offering.

And so, I offer up some helpful tips I wish somebody had told me when arriving upon the steps of the Ivory Tower of Education, some things that may help out the young The Leagues showing up at their own colleges and universities, all across the world this Fall.

Academics:

  1. Congratulations.  You made it to college.  Remember how you were the smartest guy in the room in high school?  You are now one of 50,000 people who did as well or better than you on the SAT.  And that's just at your university.  There are thousands of universities in the US alone.  Keep that in mind with every decision you make this year, my special snowflake.
  2. Also, you aren't at Harvard.  Likely, you're at some state school that's been dealing with aggressive budget cuts and which is struggling to keep the lights on.  You need to keep that in mind when you consider how hard you're going to be working in your classes.  Only the Harvard guys can take it for granted that someone's going to hire them just because they got a degree.
  3. Do not sign up for any classes before 10:00 AM.  Especially Oceanography.  If you don't lack discipline now, you will by Halloween.
  4. Its okay not to have a major quite yet.  But pick two or three things and take a course in each of them.
  5. Yeah, I heard you were a bit of actor/ artist/ film-maker in high school!  Great!  Now pick a real major.  You can do all of those things without spending $100,000 getting a degree in them.
  6. I'm serious.  At least with a Geography degree someone will pay you to teach high school, maybe.
  7. Oh, you're still pretty sure you're a special snowflake of an artist?  Great.  I wasn't aware you had a trust fund you could draw on to sit around and think about the film you're going to make, that real special one that's basically about you and your friends, but using pseudonyms for your pals.  That sounds real interesting!  No, really!  There's absolutely no sarcasm there at all!
  8. The only people who will get jobs when they graduate that are in the field they intended to work in are the engineers and business majors.  The engineers will work themselves to a lifeless husk by age 32 and the business majors were dead inside long before they arrived here.  Pick your poison.
  9. Study.  Seriously.  As soon as you get home, study.  As soon as you get up, study.
  10. If you're a film major, you can't really study a lot, so you might as well go see, like, 5 movies a week.  This is totally normal.
  11. You likely write really shitty papers.  Find the campus writing center and don't let your ego get in the way.
  12. You also don't know how to study.  I didn't.
  13. Sometimes the grading gods are capricious.  Live with it.


Dating:
  1. I know its annoying that your roommate wants to be in the room to sleep and have access to his or her clothes when its obvious you need alonetime with your new significant other.  They are a total jerk for interrupting your love.  You're totally right.
  2. If you're talking worshipfully about your girlfriend either back home or who went to another college, she will dump you either before or at the Thanksgiving break.  
  3. If you're talking worshipfully about your boyfriend back home or who went to another college, he will not dump you, but keep you around on a line while he has a couple of other things going on you'll find out about this summer.  The last person to know this will be you.  The first person to know this will be every single guy you turn down for dates because you've "got a boyfriend back home".
  4. You know what's super-lame?  Pining after that one girl on the floor who obviously has a boyfriend and is not breaking up with him, no matter how much of a chump he is or however many other girls you happen to know he's, uhm, dating.  This is not the movies.  Nobody in real life ever got that girl.
  5. If you're describing your approach to dating to your peers and they all make a face, inhale sharply, or otherwise give non-verbal cues of disapproval, take a minute and find out why what you just said was very, very wrong, indeed
  6. Also, I know girls think guys share details.  We do not.  Guys, do not think because you saw "American Pie" once that your friends want details.  Sometimes movies lie.
  7. Anybody you met while on vacation, especially overseas, is not actually your boyfriend, ladies.  

Drinking:

  1. We won't pretend you will know how to drink yet, so we won't bother with the hard-earned lessons that you need to get like badges on a soldier's uniform.  
  2. Before Thanksgiving, you will discover booze in a way that makes high school booze look like Minute Maid.  
  3. Vomiting gets rid of the poison and will save your life or at least a trip to the hospital, but its still shameful and its okay for your friends to make fun of you when it happens
  4. Before bed - no matter how tired you are or how lucky you are to have found your room, take a handful of aspirin, drink at least one 32 oz. cup of water and stay up until you're exhausted and the room has quit spinning
  5. Ha ha ha  Jaegermeister!  No.  Satan made this specifically to both tempt and punish the foolish.
  6. When you find someone passed out in the communal bathroom floor, if they are still breathing and you recognize the person as a neighbor, gently kick them in the ribs to see if they wake up.  They will thank you.  If they do not wake up, leaving them there is okay, too.  They appreciate the cold, soothing texture of the tile floor right now, anyway.
  7. If you're trying to leave for a party and you've had a few before, enough so that a car door slams on your head and you're bleeding but can't feel it, you're probably fine.  Just make sure you don't bleed on that shirt or anyone in the car.
Your Roommate:
  1. Room with someone you either don't know or someone you don't care that you will never want to speak to again.  It is the rare case that someone feels like "besties" by Spring Break.
  2. By Halloween, you will hate your roommate.  Its called The Roommate Blues.  Trust me, you're just as bad as they are, you just haven't developed the self-awareness to realize it yet.
  3. You know what that roommate would really appreciate?  If you would clean.  Its only 40 square feet for chrisssake.
  4. Listening to Billy Joel's Greatest Hits and ONLY Bill Joel's Greatest Hits for three months will make your roommate want to drive a stake through your heart, and/ or destroy any devices in the room capable of playing audio.
  5. If things start to go south, a steady campaign of passive-aggressive mental anguish is best.  Does your roommate hate your music?  Buy a subway poster of their least favorite band and hang it on your wall. Also, find items you figure they'll just flat out find offensive and hang those, too
  6. Bringing a significant other back to the room is a tricky, tricky operation and is the best reason to keep it civil between you and your roomie.  But the tie on the door handle is still really funny, and everyone on your hallway will find it funny, too.
  7. Sharing of food is key.  No matter how bad it gets, they get a slice of that pizza you're eating that's making you fat, anyway.

Dorm bathroom etiquette:
  1. When you lock your roommate out of the room when he's taking a shower, and he tries to come back in but he's locked out and he's only got a towel and a bottle of shampoo...  and he has to go down 12 stories in the elevator to get assistance so someone can let him into your shared room, sorry isn't really enough.  But I am still so sorry, Peabo.
  2. Yes, that IS a bathtub.  No, we don't know why its there, guys.  Do not ever use it.  Just using it is creepy.  Sitting in a bubble bath with a stack of romance novels is way, way creepier.
  3. Once a toothbrush touches the floor, it is time for a new toothbrush.
  4. Singing in the shower is encouraged.  Screaming is not.
  5. No, it really isn't funny to let the girls in there.
  6. Look, we all eat in the same cafeteria, so sooner or later we're all going to go through whatever it is you're going through in that stall.  Just bear down and get through it.
  7. The bathroom is a weird place to meet people, but sometimes that's where you meet people you still know two decades later.
  8. A chicken-fighting ring may seem like a profitable idea at first, but it just gets complicated and out of control before you know it.
  9. Speaking of, whether blood of human or fowl, this is a shared bathroom.  Clean it up ASAP.  Do not wait for the janitors.
Who you are and are not:

  1. You're an idiot.  I'm sorry.  All incoming freshmen are complete idiots and barely worth the cost we could get of melting them down and selling their fat for heating oil.  You'll be better by Christmas, but right now you don't even know how to stand in a line properly or talk on the phone without making a spectacle of yourself.  
  2. You are not worldly.  I know you went to Spain that one time, or you read that article on Darfur.  You're a tourist or a concerned citizen.  
  3. You are not an expert on anything.  You are now surrounded by professional experts.  They will ask you what you think, because you need to learn how to do this by the time you're a junior, but as a freshman, you are just a blathering idiot.  The more you talk, the more you're shaming yourself in front of your peers and becoming "that guy" in class.
  4. Your parents are not experts.  Standing up in class and telling a PhD with tenure that they CAN'T be right because of something Pappy told you back on the farm is a losing proposition.  And you're sweet for your Ellie May-like innocence, but they made office hours for a reason, my friend.
  5. You're a kid pretending to be political.  18 year-olds mostly either mimic the baggage they brought with them from their folks or are in some state of proving how different they are from their folks.  If you want to start getting political your junior year once you've had to pay taxes two or three times, fine.  But otherwise you're more or less mistaking debate club for the real world.
  6. You are wearing a costume.  By Christmas you'll have given up and started dressing in the manner that befits rolling out of bed and getting to class as quickly as possible, but that first two weeks of school where the kids all show up with their wardrobes carefully selected to show off who they are?  Its absolutely precious.

Stuff to do:
  • Fall in love a couple of times.  At least once with the wrong girl or boy (or both.  We don't judge).
  • Go to shows.  Music will never be as much fun again as it is when you're 18-25.
  • Try stuff like operas and musicals and whatever you can get with a student discount.
  • Sleep.  And not the 4 hours per-night I thought I could cruise on for five years of college.
  • Try movies that sound like stupid, experimental garbage.  Sometimes they'll surprise you.  And if they're garbage, try to figure out why they were garbage.
  • Figure out what you love that isn't going to fit neatly into a career.  Cooking?  Reading about the Spanish-American War?  Acting?  College is full of classes that will spark interests you never knew you could have (I wound up with a HISTORY degree for God's sake).
  • Go to goofy sounding lectures from visiting speakers.
  • If a celebrity comes to campus, cut class to see them (I saw Jesse Jackson and missed a Psych 301 lecture)
  • Watch Kung-Fu movies and Clint Eastwood movies
  • Listen to jazz
  • Go to a football game
  • Stay up to watch the sunrise at least twice
  • Steal something that isn't bolted down.  See if larceny works for you.  
  • Choose to make the right decision when the easy decision would benefit you.
  • Eat at cheap restaurants at odd hours
  • Kiss a girl in the rain.
  • Do your math homework.
  • Show up for all your lab sessions.
  • Learn a long and terrible joke.
  • Play on an intramural team.
  • Try kicking above your head.
  • Watch Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness a couple dozen times.
  • Do not play the baseline to "Daytripper" over and over and over all semester.
  • Keep telling your Old Man you've changed majors every two months.
  • When people tell you horrifying things about themselves, it is not a competition.  Listen.
  • Don't go home until Thanksgiving.
  • Refuse to separate your laundry into colors.  Apparently, it doesn't matter.
  • Make friends.  You'll still be friends with some of those guys 20 years later and watch them bringing children into the world.  Its a remarkable thing.

And that's probably more than enough to get you going.  

Yeah, there's more.  Some of it you have to find out for yourself.  Some of it I'm not dumb enough to share, what with my folks and Jamie's folks reading this blog.  Some of it is probably specific to Jester West 12th floor circa 1993-94.  

You're not an adult quite yet, but you're out of the consequence-free space that was your youth.  You're not there for trade school and to get a job, you're there to learn the basics of how to look at the world in a way that's seeing past the 18 years of training they gave you before you arrived, and that will let you see a much bigger, more magnificent world.  A decent school should be able to tell you anything you want, if you stick around long enough.  But more than anything, it should tell you:  you don't know anything yet.  Not really.

Knowledge is something earned, not something handed over via TV, radio or the internet.  Its hard fought for, and universities are the fortresses and churches of that hard won knowledge, constantly both trying to disseminate what they've learned and protect the knowledge from those who find the information inconvenient.  And you're on your way to participating in that conversation.  

We at the Signal Watch wish you well, and we hope you avoid getting anybody pregnant this year.
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