Originally printed in The Daily Targum, September 2, 1993
The best piece of advice I received as a freshman is the same advice I'll give to all of you. Whether you are a young innocent right out of high school, a travel-weary transfer student from another wonderful academic institution, or simply a returning student to good old Rutgers 'It'll Be Beautiful When It's Finished' University, this advice is sacred, to be memorized, and to be cherished. Here it is:
Find a senior. Latch on to that senior. Befriend him. Love him. Never let him out of your sight. Ask him anything. Make him buy you beer. Cling to him and use him for all he's worth.
The reason is simple--most seniors know everything. They've been here long enough to know how to get everywhere, what professors to choose, what classes to take, where to eat, whom to bribe, whom to sleep with, and whom to completely avoid. Some of them even know the difference between 'who' and 'whom.' I had one of them explain it to me.
Pick this senior carefully, for he will be your guide for the next year, and he will help you through some of the most difficult choices you will make at Rutgers. 'What should I major in?' 'Where should I live?' Make sure this senior is good enough to be able to lead you though an entire year.
And make sure this senior isn't me.
The second best piece of advice given to me when I started Rutgers was given to me by my grandfather. He told me, 'There are two ways to be a complete and worthwhile person. The first is to do a little bit of everything, to be decent enough to talk about anything. Take some music classes, take a karate class, join the debate team, take a completely foreign language. Be a well-rounded person.
The second way to be a truly great person is to find something you like, and do it better than anyone. Be the best architect, the best trumpet player, the best short story writer. And even if you don't become the best, strive for it.
I think my grandfather chose the second of these two ways. His path to greatness was to pick one thing, and he practiced it many long and hard years until perfection. My grandfather just happens to be the man who perfected the art of cursing at other cars on the road. I can only hope to carry on his tradition.
Believe it or not, unless you're an engineer, you'll have a lot of spare time on your hands. Don't waste it by drinking beer and watching TV. Be an individual, and try to create something in your life that wasn't there before. Some people will tell you that their college years was the best time of their lives. Always think to yourself: 'If I look back in twenty years, will I regret wasting what could have been four wonderful years?' (Remember, you'll be forty. You can use phrases like 'wonderful years.')
A caveat, though: don't throw yourself into a four-year commitment your first week. Generally, a new student doesn't know his brass from his oboe, and sometimes in his innocence can end up doing things his freshmen year that he will regret. (I remember a few nights like this; even if I don't remember their names.) Don't let the overpowering pressure to fit in right away make you do something you'll regret when you're a senior. People will forgive you if you join their organization a little late, but you won't forgive yourself if you look back and realize that you should have done something incredibly different. Now, I will share some random bits of advice I gave my sister (it's her first week, too). First of all, no matter what major you are, take Terrence Holt's course in Science Fiction (offered through the English department). It's only offered in the spring, but it's well worth the wait. Second of all, unless you like waiting on line, never go to Brower Commons at 6:15 for dinner. Third of all, keep up with campus politics. It's very entertaining material. Fourth, resist the temptation to eat dessert at every meal in the dining halls. You'll regret it four months and fifteen pounds from now. Fifth, under no circumstances should you schedule back-to-back classes on different campuses. You won't make it. Trust me.
And lastly, don't date people on your floor. I know it can work out well, and sometimes it even does. But more often, it ends in very hard feelings, and a very rough year. As my mother always said, 'You should never sleep where you eat.' I never quite knew what she meant, but this is the same woman who always tells me to 'keep my doors and windows locked' when I drive into New York City. I was nineteen and neurotic before I realized that the windows don't lock on the average Subaru. Which, incidentally, is a very comfortable place to fool around, except with people from your floor.
If you are new to the school, welcome, and enjoy your stay. There are millions of things to do here, and millions of opportunities. There is a group here for everyone, and it is very difficult to find yourself without friends. And if you ever do find you're feeling a little lonesome, go to the student center, or through your dorms, or in your classes, and introduce yourself to anyone you see. They won't bite. At least not until midterms.
If you are a returning student, and your name happens to be Elaine Walker, you still owe me five bucks.
If you are a returning student who doesn't owe me any money, welcome
back. It's time for you to make an impression on your school, your community,
and your world. And it's time for me to learn the difference between 'who'