Reflections, regrets and 10 words of wisdom

by Steven Snyder

You hear college graduates saying it all the time: “We made it!” The cynical part of me wants to respond, “Well, aren’t you special!”

I have never understood why graduation is such a big deal. Besides being able to afford four (or five) years of increasing tuition, which should warrant an award in itself, just about anyone willing to show up and put forth some amount of effort will find himself or herself with a degree sooner or later.

Rather than “we made it,” I have found myself preoccupied with the more elusive question, “How did we make it here so soon?”

It has been more than 1,300 days since I started college almost four years ago, and now I find myself about to be shoved into the real world. I guess I should be happy I am one of the lucky few to get out of this institution in four years. But, to be honest, I want to stay for a while longer.

In thinking about my final column of the year, I did not want to focus on politics or current events. Instead, I wanted to reflect on my great moments here at the University and what I regret from my four years on campus. And I wanted to give some advice to those lucky first-year students and sophomores who are just starting to find their college groove.

Why do I feel sad about leaving college in the first place? I know many who are anxious to get the hell out of here and others who have loathed their time at college. For me, the positive experience has all been due to the people.

During my first year, after I started to get to know my neighbors in the dorm, there were the daily 5 p.m. rushes to dinner and late-night pizza gorging. On the good days, we’d find chicken nuggets waiting for us at University Dining Services and, on the bad days, yet another stale hamburger or bowl of week-old cereal.

Once the snow melted, there were volleyball and Frisbee games outside. There were trips to the grocery store, packed into a small car. I remember movie nights over at Coffman Union before it closed (yes, that’s how long I’ve been here) and long Saturday night bus rides downtown or uptown.

Over the years, I went through many of the phases that college students go through. With a group of friends, I hit the clubs, bars, music venues and house parties. Yes, at one point, I was the foolish underage kid navigating his way toward the keg with a red plastic cup.

Like everyone, I have my share of great drunk stories. My roommate my first year dragged home a road sign across the Washington Avenue Bridge at three in the morning, only to realize on arriving at the dorm that he had severely cut up his leg. To solve the problem, he took a huge jug of peroxide, walked into the bathroom and dumped some on his leg. I swear his screams woke up half the dorm.

These stories are not simply trips down memory lane. They are the innocent, unpredictable moments that make college what it is – a time for immaturity, bonding and fun. I believe we grow more during the first year of college than at any other time in our lives. And, notice, not one memory involved studying or a class.

Looking back, I have my share of regrets, though not nearly as many as others I know.

I regret not keeping in touch with those friends I made freshman year. Yes, as we get older, we get busier, but I wish I had taken the time through e-mail to stay in touch.

I regret studying so hard. While classes do require some effort, I think I too often chose books over friends earlier in college. I could have taken a break, could have left my room and would likely have earned just about the same grade.

More than anything, I regret my relentless focus on the future. I was always looking ahead, one or two years down the road. Why didn’t I stop and smell the flowers? One of my all-time favorite quotes is “What a pity that youth is wasted on the young.” Think about how nice it would be, seniors, to have the schedule of a freshman right now. How much more would we appreciate it than them?

While this column likely appears to be a random assortment of anecdotes and nostalgia, I have tried to use my own story to entice you to think about your college experience. For those of us facing graduation, there is a lengthy list of fond memories and emotional regrets. But for those of you with one or two or three years left, I want to say – I envy you.

True, you’ll have homework and exams and grades, but you’ll also have the late-night drunken runs across campus and the parties with friends that will go until five or six in the morning.

And for you I have a few words of advice. Nothing profound, mind you, but my top 10 words of advice for the future.

1. Live in the moment. Enjoy today, even if it’s filled with finals and job searches. These carefree college days will come to an end far too soon.

2. Skip class and take a nap outside. Yep, pretty random. But it’s something I have regretted not doing throughout college. On one of Minnesota’s 20 perfect days a year, blow off class and enjoy the weather.

3. Work hard early in college because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be turning in semester projects hot off the printer senior year.

4. Stay on campus during the school year. So many people leave the University on the weekends; to really appreciate college, you can’t always be leaving.

5. Throw parties. Find excuses to get friends together, to stay up all night and create the memories that you’ll look back on senior year.

6. Get involved around campus. Don’t be the person who sleepwalks through each day, but instead get involved with a group or an event you’re interested in.

7. Stay in touch with friends. Do what I was unable to do and keep in touch with all the friends you make through the years.

8. See live music in the Cities. Arts-wise, there is so much to do in Minneapolis. Don’t take it for granted. Take advantage of all the venues around you. Go see college musicians. If you don’t know any, try Erik Espe, one of my classmates my first year who performs regularly around campus.

9. Read The Minnesota Daily and participate. I think many don’t realize just how impressive the Daily truly is. It is the country’s largest student-run paper. Take advantage of this public forum. Write in with your opinions. Engage a public debate about campus news, politics or anything that interests you.

10. Ask someone on a date. Courtney Lewis, in her Monday column on dating, hit the nail on the head. Go up to someone new, take a chance and enjoy this time in your life – when tens of thousands of peers are equally interested in playing the dating game.

In short, live. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Surround yourself with people you respect and who respect you. Share your love. Be passionate despite the judgment of others. And let those important people in your life know how much they mean to you.

When I manage to accomplish all of this, I’ll let you know.

Steve Snyder’s columns appear alternate Wednesdays. He welcomes comments at [email protected].

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