Here's Something: An uncle’s unsolicited advice for a college freshman

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No longer a boy, but not quite a man, my nephew Dan recently left for freshman year at a university in the Big Sky Country of Montana.

He’s a good kid and I’m sure he’s doing well in his new situation. When I saw him last, I hurriedly shared some of the things I learned from my own college experience, but I’ve got more to give (as any wise and very humble uncle naturally would). And, though my advice is definitely unsolicited and most assuredly unwanted, I feel the need to share it. So here goes:

Dan, as a quick recap, I’ve already told you about not looking at every girl you see on campus as a potential girlfriend. (This allows you to be friends with girls, which at this stage is your best bet, since you need to keep focused on your studies to keep your scholarships).

And I’ve told you about spending your time in class by taking copious and well-organized notes. (It’s easier to study for a test if you have everything the professor said right in front of you in your notes. What he highlights in class is usually on a test.)

Also, do you remember me saying to get things done as they come at you? Whatever it is, just get it done. Don’t put it off. This is a great life skill you’ll need at any job.

But since our talk this summer, I’ve also been thinking a lot about how you need to explore your new surroundings. You’re in a great place. College isn’t all about work, so try to have fun doing things unique to your area. You probably won’t live in Montana forever, so take advantage of it while you’re there – fly fishing, visiting your relatives there, doing some epic hikes and mountain bike rides. Don’t get so lost in the university bubble that you forget about the larger world.

Also, don’t forget to keep going to church weekly (unlike your lazy uncle). Church provides everything our community- and meaning-starved modern world searches for elsewhere: Friendships with people of all social strata and ages, spiritual knowledge and renewal, chances to give back by volunteering, and life purpose.

Keep a long-term perspective. College, which means “Read together” in Greek, is demanding, but it won’t last forever. Remember the phrase “This too shall pass,” and power through the tough times.

Also, college is a chance for something better. High school is filled with people who don’t want to be there. College is different. You’ve probably already realized that students in college don’t talk during class or play the class clown. When you’re paying hard-earned cash (or going into heavy debt) for the privilege to study a subject, there’s no time for monkey business. Scholarship isn’t nerdy, as it was in high school; it’s the norm.

Don’t cheat. My high school was filled with cheaters 25 years ago and I’m sure it hasn’t changed. But in college you’re there to learn the material so you can excel in life and a profession.

Days are spent going to class, but nights and weekends can quickly derail the best of plans. You’re a popular guy. Don’t let friends pressure you into doing anything you shouldn’t do. If they are trying to coax you away from what’s right, that’s a good indication they’re not your friends.

Don’t drink and don’t do drugs. Don’t break the law. It doesn’t lead to anything good.

Consider your major. You’re growing as a person each day and you might want to go in a new direction. You’re only 18. Don’t think you’re locked in. But when you find something that fits your personality and goals, lock on for good. At some point we need to make decisions in life. You’ve made some good ones already, so keep it up.

Be who you want to be. Venturing so far from home, with no one around who remembers who you were in high school, allows you to chart a new course if you choose. We don’t get many chances in life to reinvent ourselves, so if there’s something you want to change, do it now.

Be wise with opportunities. Take every chance to try something new. Embrace everything, since it may lead to an unexpected delight.

Your parents aren’t around to keep you from eating nothing but a big bowl of ice cream for dinner, so it’s on you to eat right and get enough rest. Caffeine isn’t a substitute for these things.

Finally, you may be far from home, but remember that your uncles, aunts, siblings, parents, grandparents and friends back home are wishing you the best. Make us proud.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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  • Linda Gouldrup

    Good advice in a nutshell, J.H.B. Sharing with my several college grandchildren. Best wishes to Dan.