Grandson Going to College: Part One

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A good part of our memoir is dedicated to Crystal and my experiences as baby boomers growing up. We met in college, and the rest so to speak, is history. I have to say, I learned a lot in those few short college years; some of it even in the class rooms.

This fall, our oldest grandson is beginning his college journey. I know he is one of many heading away from home for the first time. It’s an exciting time and a little scary. I have talked to him from time to time and I know his parents have given him good advice. However, writing this blog has given me a chance to organize my thoughts about a number of things, and different times in our lives. Time and experience gives you a little perspective. When I look back now, I realize what would I have wanted to know, what advice would I have wanted to receive before mom and dad abandoned me in that strange foreign land. I have a few thoughts/rules I wish to share.

Just as a warning, this blog got a little wordy, even for me. Therefore, we will break it into two parts. Expect part two in August (just in time for school). I think you will find it worthwhile; especially if you are planning on attending college or have older children.

  • You will meet all types of people. Make them part of your learning experience.

Coming from a basically all white community I found college a fascinating and great change. College is a unique crucible of people roughly the same age with different backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities and experiences, but one goal; to graduate. I have found that you only need one thing in common with a person to start a conversation, and in some cases, build a relationship. I was lucky to find a core group of friends in college. While we no longer stay in touch regularly, I still know they will always be my friends. Others fell into categories of acquaintances or just fellow students. Still, it was interesting talking to, and getting to know so many different people from so many different backgrounds. My junior year and part of my senior year I stayed in a boarding house just off campus. It was owned by a Scandinavian American who won a gold medal for walking in the 1932 Olympics. During that year others who lived in our house included: two students from Viet Nam, one from Hawaii, two Arabs named Mohamed and Ali (not kidding), an Afro American (we played B-ball together), a Polish Agricultural Scientist (we worked together at the Government lab), and a very country shoe salesman. My college experiences helped me better understand a much larger world. It helped me appreciate my family more. It made me a little better at seeing life from more than my own point of view. That type of empathy can only bode well for your future.

Some of my housemates from Mr. Magnesson’s Boarding house.

  • Keep your eye on the prize. Study always comes first.

This is one admittedly; I wasn’t too good at when I got to Bradley U. I always wanted to study hard and be a model student, but unfortunately often temptation prevailed. “Hey Ron you want to toss a Frisbee? Hey Ron you want to play some ball? Hey Ron let’s play bridge all night. Hey Ron, fill in the blank.” I was too easily distracted. I got better by around my junior year when I found some more secluded study hideouts. When I met Crystal, my senior year, and discovered the study date, I finally peaked. We were immediately good for each other. We both got advice from our fathers. Mine told me to study harder while hers told her to have some fun. We balanced each other. While improving your grades every year, as I did, is a worthy goal, starting out with the right mindset is much more effective and far less stressful. When you learn to get the work done first, there will still be time for fun; and the fun will be more fun.

  • Become a planner.

One of the most vital lessons I developed during four years of college was planning. This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Yes, it should be obvious that you need to plan your studies. By the way, it won’t take you long to figure out that your instructors take it for granted that their class is the most important/only class you are taking.  At some point, you will be overwhelmed. The only way to fight that is through organization and follow-through.

Everyone is different. It may take you a while to know what you need to do to learn and what each professor requires. Each week set up a study schedule and stick to it. You may need to tweak your schedule from time to time, but it will get easier. Next, and this is critical, plan your distractions. All work in college doesn’t just make Jack dull. Half way through your first semester, a man will show up with a straight jacket and take you to the loony bin. You need reasonable breaks. You need a life.

In the end, if you stick it out and graduate, those planning skills you have developed will prove to be among your most important assets in life. You will be a more valuable employee: more independent and effective in your personal life, a better life partner, and in general better capable of handling the complexities of adult life.

Tip from Crystal:

In the 70’s we used a physical calendar.  Your professors will give you or email you a syllabus which is a plan for the whole class including assignments, tests, etc.  Write on the calendar when everything is due.  Also, it was helpful to write a week or several weeks ahead when a paper or major assignment was due. It won’t take you long to figure out how long it takes you to finish an assignment and then you can make a daily study schedule so you will get everything done on time.  Also, get enough sleep.  It has been proven that while we are sleeping, our brain is organizing what we are learning.  This is time management.  Once mastered, college and even life in general will seem easier.

  • Learn how to fail

This is a big one, and probably the single greatest source of anxiety for not just college students, but people of all ages. Sadly, failure is part of life and will be part of your college experience. Failure means different things to different people: whether you actually fail a class or a test, maybe you got a C when you thought you had a B, or you didn’t get the internship you needed.  You got into a fender bender, or that girl you asked out turned you down. Life is full of failures. It’s what you do next that will make the difference.

One quick example should make the point. One of my best friends and I were walking across campus one cold starry fall evening. We had been studying all day and had just taken the big evil Organic Chemistry test. As a hint to how we did, we were talking about dropping out of college and joining the Marines. The next day we both wound up dropping the class. He changed his major from pre-med. to Economics. I retook the class over the summer and aced it. I went on to get a degree in Chemistry and he became an Economics Professor. So when you experience a failure, remember it’s only one of life’s many battles, not the war. You don’t truly fail until you stop trying. Also, remember your plans aren’t always God’s plans. A temporary failure might just set you up for a change of direction that leads to even greater future success.

Winston Churchill was a smart man; he agreed with me:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

He also said: “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

From Thomas Edison:

“I failed my way to success.”

 “I have not failed I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”


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