There was a wonderful, moving piece I read today from a mom who wrote her middle child a note as he turned 17, telling him the 17 things she wishes he would know on his 17th birthday. Check it out for yourself and share it with your Deac – or better yet, write your student your own version of this letter.
Inspired by this mom’s article, I thought about which 17 things I would like to tell our students. Here goes.
1. Bring your best self to everything you do at WFU. Academically, it means keeping up with classes and assigments, being prepared, being responsible. Socially, it means being a good citizen of this campus.
2. Be curious. This is perhaps the only 4-year stretch in your life where you have the luxury of time to think about all sorts of issues, to learn new things, to stretch and grow. Take advantage of it.
3. Get to know your faculty. You should strive to know a lot of them of course, but be sure to find at least one faculty member (or administrator) you can go to for academic issues, personal advice, etc. The faculty here care and they want to know you – so go to office hours and forge those relationships. Same holds true for administrators and staff members. (PS – be especially kind to the folks who work on your hall, serve you food at the Pit, etc. They have tough jobs.)
4. Don’t look to your parents to solve your problems. Their problem solving skills are probably already superb and those muscles don’t need to be stretched; yours do. You have to learn to weather big and small issues on your own. Finding your own solutions to problems is what helps you learn to deal with whatever life throws at you – and gives you confidence to know you are smart and capable and can figure things out on your own. Even if it means a disappointment or a failure to get something you want, this is how we all learn. It’s fine to vent to your parents or family members about problems, but tell them “I am just venting – I am not asking you to solve this. I need to do that myself.”
5. Choice of major does not determine one’s outcome in life. There are very few jobs that admit (or exclude) someone solely based on their major. If you fall in love with [insert major here] and are excited about that course of study, go for it with all you have.
6. Mental health matters – don’t ignore it. I’d venture to guess that nearly everyone in their 4 years here has moments of anxiety, depression, concern over a friend who is exhibiting troubling behavior. Don’t go that alone. Seek out support from the University Counseling Center, Student Health, the Chaplain’s office, your RA.
7. Physical health matters. Get enough sleep, make nutritious food choices, exercise. And be moderate and balanced in all things. And speaking of….
8. Be careful with alcohol. First and foremost for your physical safety, but also because you don’t want to waste every weekend being drunk and hungover. You will never, ever, ever be as free of life’s responsibilities as you are now. You are young, on a beautiful campus and you have every opportunity available to you. Don’t waste those opportunities in a drunken haze.
9. Be true to yourself. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin, even if that means you aren’t doing what you think everyone else is doing. You are going to be happier being you than pretending to fit in to some ideal that doesn’t feel right for you.
10. Look out for your friends and classmates. Be attentive to someone who might be struggling. Offer them kindness and support – but also know that you are not a trained doctor/counselor/therapist. Encourage people to get help when they need it. And if you see troubling behavior – for example, someone trying to take advantage of a female student who is intoxicated, step in and help the young woman.
11. Focus less on the exterior, and more on the interior. Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Kindness, compassion, and wisdom are the best accessories.
12. Don’t be afraid of difference. The world is full of TV shows, talk radio, and other things that just want to polarize and paint people of one race/belief system/political affiliation/sexual orientation/religion/whatever as the bad guy. Truth is, we are all humans and we have to share this planet together. If you only surround yourself with people who look and think like you, you’ll lose the opportunity to learn different viewpoints and the chance to empathize with another person’s experience that is different than yours.
13. Go to lectures, plays, concerts, speaker events, athletic competitions, dances. Suck as much as you can out of your Wake Forest experience. It will end way sooner than you think.
14. Study abroad. Consider a place where they speak a different language or have a vastly different culture if you want the biggest personal growth. But know that even if you go to a country that speaks English, you will still encounter cultural and other differences from life in the US that will stretch your mind, expand your worldview. Plus, it’s awfully fun.
15. Take part in meaningful campus ceremonies and activities. That could be the Lovefeast, Rolling the Quad, going to Deliberative Dialogues, Project Pumpkin, Campus Kitchen…you get the idea. Be a part of what is happening around you. And if you see something on this campus that needs to change, don’t just gripe about it, figure out how to roll up your sleeves and be part of the solution.
16. Fall in love. At least once while you are here. It’s ok if it ends, is messy, or doesn’t last forever. We learn what we want and need in relationships by being in them and seeing what works for us and what doesn’t. There will likely be many “ex”es before you find “The One.” But it is worth looking for.
17. Call. Your. Parents. They love you and want to hear from you.
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