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My Three Keys to the College Experience

I have my books. I have all my dorm room essentials packed and ready to go at a moment's notice. My new backpack is begging to be broken in. All these things confirm what I've been waiting for since the end of June--that the start of fall term 2012 is finally upon us all. In just a few short days, I'll be moving into Anderson Hall for my second year of college.

It feels strange to be typing that. Has it really been a full year since I took my first steps on campus, a lowly freshman leaving home for the first time ever? Was that first year trip to McCall, where I met the very people I wouldn't hesitate to call some of my closest friends today, truly 365 days ago? As cliche as it sounds, those days still feel fresh. They could have happened yesterday. I can recall all my old anxieties about dorm life, making friends, and academic achievement as easily as I can recall what I had for breakfast today. And yet here I am, all these months later, a sophomore. And then I'll blink and it'll be holiday break. And then spring term. And suddenly it'll be summer again and I won't know what to do with myself. And then the years will roll on and on until eventually cars will fly, my laptop will qualify as a museum piece, I'll have a summer home on the moon, and some random 18 year old kid will be stressing out about his  first day of college.

Speaking of those anxieties, I found out quickly last year that the best way to face those first year jitters is to ask yourself why you're going to college in the first place. And for me, as it has in most of my life's little introspective issues, the answer laid in a song lyric. Sure, it may have come from the opening lines of a eurobeat dance track, but the random location certainly didn't deter me from accepting it as my solution. For the lyric in question contained what I identified as the three most important things I wanted from higher education: to Fall in Love, Take Chances, and Make Mistakes.

These three phrases encompass absolutely everything college has to offer me, and most likely many other incoming students. How so, you may ask? Well, let's go through them one by one:

Fall in Love

When people think of falling in love, they think in terms of relationships: boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl find a house in the suburbs, adopt a dog, and finally give birth to 2.4 wonderful children. And sure, I'd be lying if I said that college wasn't one of the best opportunities to meet someone special and develop a really meaningful, loving relationship. But my desire to fall in love in college goes beyond connecting with that cute girl across the hall. I don't just want to fall in love with people--I want to fall in love with ideas.

I want to find something academically that I can be passioniate about. I want to take my enjoyment of the written word and craft it into more than just a means to a successful career. I want to think of my education not as a stepping stone, but as a way of life. In short, I want to find the thing, or the things, that will lead me towards a life I can fall in love with. I want to feel as though I'm working towards fulfilling my purpose in life through my studies and experiences during my years as a student. I don't want to end up in some sort of rut 30 years from now as a grumpy, jaded, balding fellow moaning about the direction my life has taken. I want to wake up each day and do something that I enjoy, something that I can be good at, something that makes more of a difference than standing at a cash register all day. A college education offers me the opportunity to find something I can enjoy on a daily basis, and gives me the tools to develop the talents I need to get there. 

Take Chances

I didn't take many risks when I was in high school--I played it safe pretty much all the time, never biting off more than I knew I could chew. And while high school was fun while it lasted, when I got to college I realized that if I didn't start taking chances, I would be missing out on so many opportunities. I needed to stop worrying about the worst case scenarios and just start jumping into things for the sake of it. A lot of the time, the risk of negative consequences will turn out to be worth the reward--and there's no better place to learn to take chances than college.

My freshman year, I found myself taking a LOT of chances, and the results of some of those chances have been some of the best things to happen to me. I took a chance and decided to rush Delta Tau Delta despite not really knowing if Greek Life was for me, and ended up with a bunch of really awesome new family members. I auditioned for last year's musical on a whim, and even though I didn't make the show, I learned some cool new music in the process. If I didn't take any chances last year, what would I have gained? As long as I'm still in college, I may as well broaden my horizons a bit. College in general supports taking chances, especially in C of I's liberal arts setting. By taking chances, you can become more well rounded--and isn't that the point of a liberal arts education?

Make Mistakes

This falls in neatly with the whole "take chances" thing, because some of those chances will inevitably have unforeseen consequences. Staying up 24 hours straight to finish a 25 page paper? Yeah, that wasn't a good idea. But did I learn something from that mistake, even though I got a good grade on the paper? Of course--staying up 24 hours is bad for your health.

That's the nature of mistakes--you can learn from them. And in a lot of cases, you can learn more from one personal mistake than you can from an entire book of other people's mistakes. And, like taking chances, making mistakes makes you more well rounded. That's always a good thing.

My next post will be made back on campus! See you on move-in day!

-Clayton Gefre

Clayton is a sophomore creative writing major from Meridian, Idaho.