As graduating and recently graduated high school seniors attend their first college freshman orientation, the first time where they will meet classmates from other high schools, my thoughts turn to how they will be welcomed.
I have attended only one college freshman orientation, my own at Rutgers. I remember only three lines from one speech delivered by a dean: “Education is the thing to do. It’s now or never. Which do you?” The speech was neither inspiring nor uplifting. But those three lines have remained on my mind for nearly four decades. They could be used by any school counselor or college advisor today.
Had I been in that dean’s position, I might have used those lines and I might have asked that same question. I would want incoming students to ask themselves: why are you here? I would also want them to ask themselves: what did you like about our college?
If one or more members of the audience answered “I don’t know” to the second question, I would have offered to refund their deposit.
What else might I have covered in my address at a college freshman orientation?
No matter how you got here, all of you are here
The very second a student and their parents deposit at a school, the student has a GPA of 0.0 at our college and no class rank. Even if you were invited to be part of our honors program, every achievement must be earned. Nothing will be handed to you. No one, especially our professors, will care about what you did in high school. Neither will your classmates. Bragging will only encourage them to stay away, as if you have a rancid body odor. Leave your varsity letter jacket or whatever awards you received in high school at home. Make room for your books, and whatever trophies you earn later.
Your high school record will not follow you for life
Maybe you did not qualify for our largest merit award or our honors college. But you can still qualify as a sophomore. Prove our admissions officers wrong and aim for what you want. They will be okay with that. They are not your gatekeepers going forward. Your professors, academic advisors, career advisors will be. Its best that you meet and learn to like as many of them as you can, until you leave.
Your education is a marathon, not a sprint to the finish line
Like it or not, college will not be the last time that you get an education. Maybe you might not go beyond formal schooling after college. But you will be forced to learn to adapt to changes in society, politics and technology. Your job is never static. The idea that a career is a ladder to success has become irrelevant. You will always be learning. College is the place where you learn how to learn.
We want you to leave with more than a degree
The most successful people you will ever meet are those who like what they do and share that passion with others. You have the opportunity to meet and befriend many successful people while you are here. They might be among your classmates. They might also be among our faculty and staff. We want you to be inspired, to find your passion. But we also want you to have friends who will be there for you for life. Look around you. Someone here might be your future spouse or your best man or maid of honor. Lock yourself in your room, make no friends, and you will get much less from your education. If you believe that you will be kicking yourself because you turned down School X to come here, get the best grades you can and transfer to School X next year. Do well and you might discover that you want to stay.