Listen Up, Freshmen: Welcome Home

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Listen up, freshmen!

Your parents are gone and classes are underway. You’re on your own now, but also kind of, you know, not. You’re free but not quite easy, footloose with fancies zooming all about your person. You are happy-dancing liberated for the very first time in your life in many ways, even while poking your swole noggin into the Davidson yoke of academic challenges like you have Never. Seen. Before. Just you wait. You will come to love a solid B, and perhaps even feel some real affection for a sketchy C+.

Here’s the thing: College is about more than academics, much more.

Precious, circa 1981

I’ve got my own academic Davidson transcript in a bottom drawer around here somewhere. It means nothing to me on its own. Oh, it’s fine by the numbers, mostly. But its important function is as a sort of Hogwartian “pensieve,” recalling to me a favorite professor’s wry humor or dramatic classroom athleticism or kind encouragement during office hours as I despaired—despaired, I tell you!—over some feckless failure on my part, real or imagined. A dramatis persona, I was.

Another swirling memory strand in my personal pensieve might enliven even today the ache I felt for a classroom crush’s clueless smile in my direction, or perhaps open the floodgates of many moments sublime and intervals hilarious in smoky dorm-room bull sessions, when I should have been writing some damn paper. (See “C+” above.)

You get the idea.

This past week, we’ve thrown a lot at you. In loco parentis, we’ve paired you as best we could with roommates, and herded you into workshops, and harangued you with orientations, and inspired you with speeches, and quizzed you in book sessions, and marched you around town on service projects….

Maybe it’s too much, I don’t know. Time was, an 18-year-old’s mom helped him carry in a small footlocker and a stereo, hugged him for as long as she could discreetly get away with in the stairwell, and then took off. Thanks, Mom.

But times change. We have helicopter parents now (or at least that’s what we call them in this century) and Facebook and texting and Skype in our pockets, all manner of tethers and temptations to poke the people we love all day long.

Resist this.

Resist the temptation to be in daily contact with the folks back home. I don’t mean you should eschew the occasional spontaneous point of howdy with a loved one, or even a late-night wail-fest with the parental units if you really need it. But I urge you to resist any and all stultifying consistency of constant contact with those who already know you best—but only know you so far.

Instead, give yourself room, real time in this real space, to claim your own Davidson experience and your own life, day by day, week by week. Craft it for yourself as you go along, with the help and ideas and care and spirit of this place and these people.

Be yourself, and become yourself.

Welcome home.

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