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University Life

by on August 16, 2012

Sometime in the next few weeks many tens of thousands of people will be moving away from home for the first time on their way to college.  Moving away from home is one of the biggest changes we face in our lives.  At some point, everyone (with a few exceptions) will face the challenge of leaving home.  The young people leaving for college are going because they want to gain an academic education.  Many of the things we learn are outside of the classroom, though.

I moved away from home at 14, by choice, with the full support of my parents.  I went to the Webb School of California for several reasons, including the reason that public education, even if it gives you a 4.0 GPA, teaches you almost nothing and prepares you in almost no way for college.  Not to discourage those many of you who went through the public system, including those who did well, learned well, and will succeed, but the public education system is often lacking.  At a boarding school on the other hand, while there was much to complain about, including the fact that we lived away from home – some people almost 10,000 miles from home – we learned live away from home.

And believe it or not, it was still hard at 18 to begin college, and to continue to live away from home.  And I don’t mean it was academically hard, although some classes are vastly more interesting than others.  I mean that after four years of living away from home, living in a world that prepares you for college if anything does, it is still a challenge to move in with yet another group of strangers, to create an environment for yourself where you feel welcome, or even at home (knowing that it’s a temporary kind of home), and to learn basic life skills.  All at the same time.

That’s exactly what you need to do to succeed at college, though.  If you’ve gotten as far as to make it in to college, you’re academically capable of graduating from college, but not everyone who makes it in will leave with a degree.

My degree is in Political Science, but I spent a significant amount of my time studying the University.  There are challenges everyone moving into a college dormitory will face, even though every school is different.  For instance, at my alma mater Sonoma State University, we were incredibly spoiled.  Most college dorms are long hallways with small rooms and common bathrooms.  Sonoma has four bed, two bath dorms, and single rooms with a shower, and nine person, three shower dorms.  Almost all of which you leave your room and you’re outside.  We also had kitchens.  All the amenities required for living with strangers.  Guess what.  That’s not the hard part.

All of that is a challenge.  And all of that is difficult at times.  But the hard part is finding a reason to stay where you are.  And, assuming you are at college, and you’ve chosen to go there, that means that you need to find a reason to stay there.  You might not know what that reason is right away.  The desire to finish school is not enough.  You can do that anywhere.  At some point, and it’s usually within the first six weeks, you’ll ask yourself if you want to stay where you are.  And that’s a different question than the one you’ll ask yourself the first few days, which is wondering you moved away from home.  You need a reason to stay where you are.  Exclamation point.

I’ve made it clear that I’ve lived away from home, and that I’ve studied the university.  There are a variety of things that keep all of us where we are, or encourage us to move on.  When I began at Sonoma State I joined an organization on campus that represented the two hundred people in my village.  In turn, I attended the meetings for the association that represented the twenty-four hundred students living in the residential community (now the residential community is larger, but that’s a different lamentation).  I spent the next four years working (volunteering) in the residential community, as presidential of the Residential Student Association (almost every university that has dormitories has a Residential Hall Association, or some variation of it), and as National Communications Coordinator, the liaison from Sonoma State to NACURH (the National Association of College and University Residence Halls).  I also joined other clubs and organizations.

Clearly, I was involved in campus life.  It is possible that I would have made it through Sonoma State without being involved in any non-academic activities on campus.  But my work (and it was work, even if it volunteer) made me dedicated to a part of campus I could not justify leaving, which in turn ensured that I would stay.  There are a myriad of ways to participate in life at college.  It does not have to be on campus.  As I’ve mentioned, people generally decide whether to stay or leave college within six weeks.  If you intend to stay, dedicate yourself to a cause, and by dedicating yourself to something, you will increase the likelihood you won’t give up.

This is not to discourage people from moving.  When you realize you are living in a place or situation you are not enjoying, please get up and move to a better situation.  I don’t assume college is for everyone, or that everyone who has the ability to make it through actually will, and realizing you are not where you want to be is an important reason to move.  However, I do encourage you to become involved in something you are passionate about wherever you are, because it will keep you there until is it time to move.

This, incidentally, applies to life before and after college.

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