Five lessons learned by a first-semester Bear and advice from her professors
I have attended Washington University for a little over three months—so I have all of the experience in the world under my belt and have decided to grace you with my words of wisdom. Just kidding! That’s the biggest lie you will ever hear. This is actually a list of lessons that I had to learn the hard way. And please don’t laugh at me. I’m still learning how to be a Bear.
1. Don’t lose your student ID
It sounds like common sense, right? And it’s super easy to secure your ID: Literally just get a cardholder for the back of your phone. Cardholders, however, aren’t that useful to you when you lose your phone. So, no matter what you do, don’t lose your phone. When you do lose your phone—because you will—check your bookbag a hundred times—and then look again. Chances are that you will find it somewhere in your bookbag the 101st time and, as a result, you’ll have your ID as well (Disclaimer: This only applies if you did not leave your ID on the MetroLink). This seems like a trivial lesson. But without your student ID, you actually can’t do ANYTHING. For example, eating. With no ID, you can’t buy food from the dining halls, and you can’t swipe into your dorm to buy a snack from the vending machine. Even if you could get into your dorm, you don’t have your student ID, and you’re a broke college kid—so, no snacks for you. And if you’re stressed because you’re in the process of starving to death, you can’t work out to take your mind off things because, you know, you don’t have your student ID to get access to the gym. Lesson? Everything will be fine if you keep an eye on your stupid ID—sorry, I meant “student.”
2. Don’t take a language class that stars at 9 a.m.
Spanish, or any language class, is not the type of thing that you want to drag yourself out of bed for early in the morning. The fact that some of us can barely form English words when we first get up is a good clue as to how hard it will be to for us to conjugate verbs in a non-native language in the early morning hours. Who knows? And maybe it wouldn’t be as bad if our tests, quizzes and participation grades weren’t all based on how well we perform during class. But in reality, the grades do depend on in-class performance, and it’s not worth it to get one letter grade lower in the class because you didn’t make good choices when putting your schedule together.
3. Don’t play the games “Odds Are—but if you do, think about the consequences first
You can play the game all you want, but don’t be surprised when you end up having to do something ridiculous, like run on the field during a football game or drink syrup at IHOP. You’ll just find yourself in situations you don’t want to be in, and it’ll be worse than you might expect. For example, if you drink the syrup straight out of the bottle at IHOP, security may or may not see you doing it on their surveillance cameras, making it necessary for your waitress to “confiscate and sterilize” the syrup bottle. It’s not fun having a salty waitress. You’ll feel too guilty to eat. And don’t expect her to bring you a to-go box.
4. Go to bed early (by 11 p.m.)
This one is just advice, rather than a lesson I learned. Looking back on this semester, a lot of the best days I had were days in which I got up early enough to get ready without being pressed for time. I had time to do my morning routine without stumbling around and looking for toothpaste—and I had time to actually put a cute outfit together. It was so much more enjoyable to wake up with time to listen to my favorite music and enjoy the pretty walk on my way to class. I could take my time and grab a muffin and hot chocolate (or even a bagel from Einstein Bros. Bagels). After that, the rest of my days seemed to go really well. Because I had enough time to do everything I wanted to before class began, I got to class early and felt a lot more prepared. And because I felt prepared, I was in a great mood and was able to engage more in class discussions. On top of that, I felt a lot more productive throughout the day and was able to focus more. You could say that some of my days were significantly better because of my delicious bagel breakfast from Einstein’s, but I think it might have had a little more to do with the fact that I went to bed earlier the night before.
5. Listen to your conscience—you have it for a reason
Hopefully you’ve picked up on this one up already. Make wise decisions, and if you’re questioning whether or not it’s wrong to do something, just don’t do it. I said it once already, but I’ll say it again for effect: Listen to your conscience—you have it for a reason.
While my words of wisdom were probably the most enlightening things you’ve ever heard, I think it would really benefit us all to hear from some of our professors. I’m really grateful to these professors who took the time to share a little with me about their experiences from their own freshman years and to give us advice.
Jill Stratton, associate dean of undergraduate residential learning
“If I were to go back in time to my first semester of college, which would be 30 years ago this fall at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky.—I would tell myself, ‘It is all going to be OK. Take a deep breath, focus in on what really matters, and truly—it will all be OK.’
“The best advice I have for first-year Wash. U. students: Surround yourself with open-hearted people! Get to know the people in your community: your [resident advisors and Washington University Student Associates,] your [Residential College Director], your housekeeper and mechanic, the Dining Services staff and the people you see on campus every day. Connect with a faculty member who you respect and invite them to tea. Explore classes and take a course that you know will challenge you. Express gratitude! Write down three things every day that you are grateful for.”
Mark Pegg, professor of history
“I wish I could tell my younger self just how little he knew, even if he thought he knew so much. Oddly enough, the older I get and the more I study, rather than feeling I know more, I just keep feeling I know so very little. This is a good thing. It means I am always curious, never complacent about what are supposedly conventional truths. I would also tell myself just how lucky and privileged I was to be able to go to university when so many people cannot.
“While any student is of course exceptional and brilliant to be at Wash. U., you still don’t know everything, and that is the joy of university (and in many ways, the joy of life). Take this chance to learn—embrace the chance to be a student. You should study what interests you and not what you (or your parents) think is supposedly marketable or profitable. The whole point of going to a great university is that no matter what you study, you can do anything in life. To shortchange this opportunity to study at a profound level what really interests you and only do what you think is ‘correct’ in some crude business sense is to actually undercut your potential. It is also anti-intellectual, and there is already too much of this corrosive sentiment in the world. Also, everyone should do a senior thesis.”
John Shareshian, professor of mathematics and director of undergraduate studies
“Find a subject that you really like and think about it as much as you can. This is much more important for success than any natural talent you might have or lack.”
Nathaniel Farrell, lecturer, college writing program
“I would tell myself that the library, not the dorm, is your real home away from home.”
“Call your parents, and make time for the people you love.”
Jose Sullivan, graduate student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
“I would tell myself to enjoy good professors and learn as much as possible from them (more than just academics).”
“Seize the time that you have here, and acknowledge the privileged position you have. For the ones coming from different latitudes, it’s amazing how great Wash. U. is, but it also helps us to remember how different it is from our own universities.”
Tim Bono, lecturer, Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences
“RELAX. It’s okay to put down your books every once in a while to do the things you love just because you enjoy them.”
“Forget everything you were ever told about college being ‘the best four years of your life.’ Yes, college is an amazing experience, but there are also a lot of hard things you’ll have to overcome. And that’s part of it, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.”