I graduated from college exactly five years ago. Can you believe it?! I have now been out of college for as long as I was in college. Looking back at my time at college I feel mostly grateful. A little ashamed, but I try not to focus on that because there’s nothing I can do change the past. The thing is, I wasn’t a super good friend in college. I was little too focused on, well, myself. But God managed to grant me some good and wise friends and professors who taught me a lot about life. He also granted me a very interesting and eye opening job that toughened me up for post-college life.
When I arrived on Cedarville’s campus I suffered from what I now know was culture shock. I grew up in a pretty diverse suburb of Detroit. I think there were more “Patel’s” in our high school yearbook than “Smith’s.” My family always had plenty of money for everything we needed and most of what we wanted, but our yearly vacations were to the family cabin in northern Michigan and to the various family get togethers in Ohio, you know what I’m saying? So when I showed up to be a part of Cedarville’s mostly white, mostly middle to upper class student body, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I remember sitting in the parking lot (of the athletic center of all places) crying on the phone to my mom. “Everyone’s rich! Everyone’s white! I don’t know what to do with myself!” What I did with myself was get a job the heck off campus. All five years of college I worked in nearby Springfield – the first year at an after school program for middle and high schoolers and the remaining four years at a daycare – where many of the parents were high schoolers. I needed that wide spectrum of experiences and individuals.
But looking back I realize it would have been nice to have a few other things as well. Like a reality check. Like someone to say, “Get over yourself!” Come to think of it, my best friend during college tried a time or two to tell me to get over myself, in so many words, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. I’m ready to hear it now, though, and I’m ready to tell it. To myself.
A letter to Suzanne the college student:
Hey, girl! You’re doing it! You’re holding down a pretty much full time job and a pretty full class load. You’re learning so much! I’m proud of you! But here’s the thing, you can be kind of a dick sometimes. And here’s another thing, swearing isn’t really that big of a deal. Don’t be too uptight.
I know you’re struggling with not having a ton of friends. I know you’re struggling with not having a boyfriend, too, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The thing about friends is that if you want to have good friends, you have to be a good friend, which means you have to think about someone other than yourself. Listen, I know you’re pretty cool – or, at least, you could be pretty cool if you stopped thinking so much about how cool you are. Listen to the music you want to listen to because you want to listen to it. Wear the shoes you want to wear because you want to wear them. Get tattoos because you like tattoos, not because you think they make you cooler.
Ask people about themselves! Say hi to people! Nobody is going to be wigged out because you said hi to them on the way to class. They’re not going to think less of you. Don’t you like it when people say hi to you on the way to class? Brighten someone’s day. Be brave! Be friendly! Be nice! And be specific! Those passive aggressive “I’m having people over who wants to come?” invites on Facebook are lame. Make someone feel special by singling them out and letting them know you want to spend time with them. Don’t hang all of your self worth on someone else’s response to you.
Hey, listen, God has some really cool things planned for you. You’re about to go to a lot of really cool places and meet a lot of really cool people. Which means you must be really cool, too. So stop worrying about that. But here’s the thing, if you get that ring by spring and get married two weeks after graduating like a bunch of people you know and love are about to do, you won’t get to do those really cool things. You won’t get to live in Paraguay and Brooklyn and Indianapolis (which is surprisingly cool!) and the Dominican Republic. God’s plans for you right now are bigger and grander than a wedding ring. Trust that and quit obsessing. It’s not cute.
Remember that one year for Lent when you gave up fast food to see how much money you would save? Remember how much weight you lost? And how much money you saved?! Stop eating so much fast food! Take care of your body and your bank account a bit. That money will come in handy when you get to move to the Caribbean.
Some final disjointed words of advice – read a lot, develop rocking prayer habits, tell the people you like that you like them, tell the people you love that you love them, put others first for real in active ways, don’t talk about people behind their backs, just smile like a normal person for pictures, buy less crap and save more money, and have a butt load of fun.
You’re a star. Love you,