A Letter to College Students (written with my former students in mind)

Dear College Students,

Many of you have just begun classes or will start this week. For some of you, college is brand new while others are inching closer and closer to graduation and moving forward in the real world. Wherever you are in the process, I want to send you into a new school year with my unsolicited thoughts.

What a great opportunity you have before you. In America, many believe that college is a right, but in reality, the ability to go to college is a great privilege. Less than 7% of people in the world hold college degrees, and by pursuing a degree, you are in the select minority. This gives you power, and “with great power comes great responsibility” (Voltaire or Uncle Ben from Spiderman which may be more familiar to you). By choosing to pursue higher education, you now have a responsibility to use your knowledge for more than just building personal wealth; you, as part of the highly educated 7%, should use your knowledge for the good of the world.

Many approach college as four years of living it up before “real” life begins; however, these four years are years that you will never have again and should not be wasted. In addition to your studies, take time to discover who you are and learn about the world. Self-discovery and world discovery rarely happens at keg parties but instead happens through intentional choices about  how you spend your time. Befriend international students and learn about their culture. Explore the arts (and I don’t just mean movies).  Read (books). Know current events. Travel with your friends, volunteer in the community, try new restaurants and eat different types of food, explore different clubs and activities. Ask your favorite professor to be a mentor. Expose yourself to poverty. I’m not at all saying don’t have fun. By all means, go to parties, host parties, and enjoy spending time with your friends, but college life should be more than parties. Instead of checking out of society for four (or five or six) years, use this time to fully check in to society.

Choose your friends wisely during this time. As Ben Franklin said, “If you lie down with dogs, you will rise up with fleas.” Many students return home from college with lots of fleas and wonder where and how they got them. They have not chosen friends wisely. My friend John Orr takes it a step further by saying “your friends will determine the quality and direction of your life.” Choose friends who bring out the best in you, encourage you, pray for you, stand by you, and are willing to speak truth to you. You cannot overestimate the choice of friends, especially during this time.

While you are pursing self and world discovery and choosing friends, don’t neglect your studies. You are at college to learn. Even classes which may not seem to benefit you can be useful. Let your brain swell with new thoughts and ideas and push yourself academically. Remember the goal of college is to equip you with knowledge for a job. Yes, a job is the end result. Even if what you want to do requires more than a four year degree, you are learning in order to be employable which will allow you to be self-supporting.

If you are in college, your family has most likely sacrificed to get you there. Remember this and thank them regularly not only in words but in the way you study and spend your time. Call – not text – your parents on a regular basis. BOYS – CALL YOUR MOM!

Many college students do not want to live messed up lives like some of the adults they know, so you should realize that the habits and patterns you set in college will carry with you  into adult life. If you procrastinate writing papers, you will most likely procrastinate as an adult. If you take part in community service projects during college, you will most likely continue to serve others during adulthood. If you choose to take a break from your faith during your college years, this will most likely carry with you into adulthood. If you choose to prioritize relationships during college, this will most likely carry into adulthood. Of course, habits can change, but don’t expect to plant apple seeds and grow a pear tree.

Sometimes my generation doesn’t give you enough credit. Some of my friends say young people are lazy and have no purpose in life. They do not know the same students I know. I see students who are smart, caring, energetic, funny, creative, passionate, and want to change the world. So I leave you with this prayer of blessing written by the prophet Bob Dylan:

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.


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