A Message to Incoming Freshmen
Finding inspiration for my blogs has not been difficult since spending more time working on The 62 Journal. Somedays, I'll be at work, and a coworker will say something that ignites that spark that gets me into a blogging mood. Today it was as simple as walking around the campus of Western Carolina with Sydney and Memphis.
I graduated from Western in May of 2021, so it doesn't feel like I've been out of academia that long, but seeing the incoming freshmen walk around campus today made me feel old. Most of these kids are five or more years younger than I am, and watching them explore campus for the first time brought me back to my first time on a college campus on my own.
It is strange being on your own for the first time. After my family dropped me off at my dorm in August of 2017, I sat there and thought, "What now?" You're alone with nothing but opportunity in front of you. Everyone's college experience is different, but it is what you make of it.
This is my message to incoming freshmen. After your parents drop you off and make the trek back home, and you're sitting in your dorm thinking, "What now?" the first thing you think of that you want to do, get up and do it. I know it's cliche to say, but no freshman knows what the hell they're doing, so I promise, you don't look stupid.
I remember the first thing I wanted to do was to explore this campus my parents had just dropped me in. You're spending way too much on all these buildings, so why not check out your investment? To me, exploring campus was like going to Disney World for the first time. You have an idea of what campus is like, but your idea of campus is just the tip of the iceberg.
Though in my four years at Western, I hardly ever spent time in the library, that was the one spot I was most fascinated with. It amazed me how much information could be confined in one space. So when I was touring the campus, that was the place that I knew that Western was the place for me. At the time, I saw nothing but rows and rows of books, but once I began diving down that iceberg, I realized it was so much more than just books.
There were meeting rooms, technology that most people can't get their hands on, and some of the smartest people I have ever met. Even today, I have not fully explored that place, so who knows what else hides behind that curtain?
Maybe you have a specific interest outside of your academics. Fishing, football, writing, religion. Whatever that interest may be, find a club and get involved. I know it's very cliche, but I promise it'll be well worth it. For me, it was getting involved in the Campus Outreach organization, a group for young Christians. There I met a ton of people, made a flag football team that went undefeated, and we may have partied just a little bit as well.
Finally, my biggest takeaway from college. Don't be a sheep. Your professors will try their hardest to influence your every way of thinking, but I challenge you to challenge them. Speak up in class. Be controversial. If you think so desperately that you're right and they're not, express that.
Your professors will be some of the smartest people you will ever meet, but most are closed-minded because they've been taught to do so. Sometimes I've gone head to head with someone with three PHDs and over thirty years of experience, but when you do that, either one of two things will happen. Your opinion on a subject will change. Or because you've expressed your perspective, and they expressed theirs, and you can't get behind what they're saying, your opinion will strengthen. If someone wildly academically smarter than you can't convince you, who can?
One example I refer back to is in my sophomore year in my communications class. I was doing a presentation where I had to convince my professor that my opinion on something was correct. The opinion that I was presenting was that college athletes should be able to profit off their name, image, and likeness. Before starting the project, the professor told me I could never change his opinion on this subject and would probably get a terrible grade. But I did it anyways because that opinion mattered to me. A few years later, college athletes can use their NIL, so who looks stupid now?
Finally, sorry parents, your grades don't matter as long as you pass. I was on academic probation twice in my four years as a college student, but I still have the same degree as someone who graduated with a 4.0. In my opinion, finding yourself these next for years is vastly more important than making the Chancellor's list, and if you can do both, more power to you.
I wasn't the perfect student because I didn't always agree with what my professors said, and my grades suffered dearly for it. Nevertheless, though I was on academic probation on more than one occasion, I still consider myself smarter than a few who finished with a 4.0. I found myself. I didn't change my identity because some professors said I needed to. I changed because I kept an open mind and thought for myself. I can't say the same for many of those that were the perfect student.
The point of all this is to come into college with an open mind and don't submit to agreeing with everything the professor tells you. You're there to challenge your way of thinking, not be told how to think (despite the university's desire to do so). The next four years will change you as an individual. Take full advantage of it.
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Dawson A. Haywood