By Alex Sousa, Managing Editor, @TwoFistedSousa
When I enrolled at UVU, it wasn’t UVU yet. The national debt was only $8.5 trillion, the iPhone didn’t exist, and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” had just won an Oscar.
I had a soul patch, I still remembered the name of my first kiss, and I had planned to buy a motorcycle and drive to Santa Cruz where I would live on the beach while I wrote the next great American novel, instead of going to college.
I started here with less than a clue of what I was doing and where I was going. And lucky me, I had to learn everything the hard way. And so, let me impart some of the wisdom I’ve learned in this crazy little thing called life.
First of all, this place will never remember you. You are a needle in a stack of 30 thousand other needles. Your professors will try all semester to learn your name, unless you’re in a big class—in that case, they won’t try at all. And by the next semester, they probably will have forgotten you.
And don’t expect your councilor to remember you either. Until she brings up your transcript, she’s not going to remember who you are or what you need. And don’t expect them to council you unless prompted to do so. It’s not their job to make your plan and track your progress, that’s all on you. You can ask them a direct question and they will answer it, but that’s it. If you want somebody to hold your hand, find a giving roommate.
Also, try to make a friend in every one of your classes. That person will help you survive everything that is thrown at you. But, once that class is over you should never expect to see that person again. This will happen a lot, it’s just how we survive. And at the end of the semester, there’s no need to say goodbye. It’s weird if you do. Don’t expect them to remember you the next semester either. But, if anybody does remember you, don’t act surprised about it.
Secondly, this place will try to kill your dreams and then it will try to kill you. Maybe back in high school you were a hot shot because you really excelled at something, but now, every other person who excelled at that same thing has been funneled into the same program as you. You are now statistically average. All those big dreams you had, well, everybody else in your class had them too.
Once this place breaks down those dreams, it will try to crush you with long hours and little sign of reward. College is a war of attrition. This place doesn’t care if you’re sick, or if you’re tired, or if you’re working two jobs—the big wheels of higher education keep on turning with or without you. This place is not your friend—it is trying to kill you. Every semester you’re stuck here is another semester of tuition. More than anything, a degree proves that you have what it takes to get through this battlefield.
The only way to win is to actually get something out of this experience. And trust me, you will get out of it exactly what you put in. So get involved somehow. Find a club, go on a study abroad, run for student government, do something—getting your hands into something is the only way you’re going to win this thing.
If you try to sail by under the radar, you’re going to lose. Sure, you can survive that way. You can put in the minimum effort and escape this place with the exact same degree as the next person. But you’ll miss out on something. You’ll lose out on the things that really make college worth it. If you get in this place’s face, it’ll back down. Do that and you might even be remembered for it.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. That can be hard to remember with mountains of homework, piles of debt, loads of textbooks, hours of homework, and miles of walking. It seems a herculean task to make it out of this academic ash pile alive, but there is an end game. When you first start, it is very far away, but if you can duck your head, take your licks and keep moving forward, you will get there eventually.
At the end of the day, if you get out of here with a shred of dignity, a glimmer of hope, and touch of smarts, then you’re doing all right. Nothing is as important as it seems, and nothing is permanent. This school will always be here, for better or worse, so make it work for you.