College Confidential

What all freshman (and their parents) should know about entering higher ed.

6 Life-Altering Lessons Learned in College

It's not the lectures you recall years after you graduate.

graduation
Some college memories last far beyond graduation. When each of my sons marched in his grad ceremony years ago, I sat on a folding chair in the sunshine with the other parents. I wept quietly, trying not to let my eyeliner run all over my face. At the same time, I wondered if I'd ever know what they learned from all those years of education. What would actually stick through their lives? 

I decided to ask myself the same question. What lasting lessons did I pick up back in my good old college years?  Here are just a few:

1.  Don't take anything that makes you think you can fly. Doctors were more naive about the dangers of diet pills in those days. I told my doctor, "They make me want to do my homework," and he said, refilling my prescription, "Then they must be good." One afternoon, fully dosed to stay alert and study for finals, I found myself perched at the top of the seemingly mile-long stairway leading from my dorm down to the campus. "I can fly," I thought. Then my brain clicked back in, and I took the normal route down.

2.  Always turn around to look before backing up a car.  One year I shared an apartment with three other girls. I was the only one who owned a car, and I was taking one of my roomies into Westwood on a shopping expedition. I found myself lined up with many other cars at the gate to a parking facility. Suddenly I decided to back out and go elsewhere instead of waiting. Bad move with annoying time-wasting consequences.

3.  Don't jaywalk.  I once ran across a Westwood street mid-block to buy a marking pen for a new friend who had casts on both legs, and I promptly got a jaywalking ticket. I always resented this (turns out she and my boyfriend had a thing going). When I later heard that an activist named Jerry Rubin (of "Chicago Seven" fame) was killed jaywalking in nearly the same spot, I was finally thankful for that lesson.

4.  Telling the truth is the best excuse.  It was the afternoon of the second Kennedy assassination, and I was supposed to be studying for an anthropology final the next day. But who could concentrate while obsessing over the TV news? At exam time, I somehow filled my Blue Book by connecting my need to watch news of the killing with whatever it was we were supposed to have learned that term. I got an A.

5.  Don't believe what others tell you.  As a non-math person, I chose this particular physics course because the teacher had a reputation for being a pushover, and someone told me it was a "Mickey-Mouse class." The work was pretty hard though, and when the final arrived, I wasn't ready. I figured I'd play sick and take a make-up.  But the professor wouldn't let me. I got a D.

6.  Toilets don't wash themselves.  It was my very first tiny apartment, with only one room, a tiny nook for my hotplate, and a bathroom. I had never paid attention to all the housework my mother had done, so I didn't know what went into caring for a home. One day, I had male company. He lifted the toilet lid and I heard a gasp. It was green in there. Lesson learned.   

Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry

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