Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Freshman Reflection: Try Every Door

One of the most important things you can do as a freshman is to make friends with upperclassmen. Aside from just getting you into parties (which they will do), they are a great resource. They know which professors to seek out and avoid, where to get a cheap sandwich, how to get to the airport, and who to ask for the best deals on laundry. But most of all, they will be people who inspire you, whether artistically, academically, athletically, or personally. Here is some advice from some wise (and snarky) upperclassmen:

Never vomit on your RA. 
Try every door, eventually some will work. 
Talk to your professors. 
The moments outside the classroom are often more important than the ones inside it. Though the ones inside it are pretty cool too. 
Take advantage of the city you live in. 
Trolling random parties as a pack is never cool. By all means, do it for a few months. Then don’t.
Take a class that makes you say, “Wait, that’s a class?” They tend to be the most fun. 
Go to as many things that you get invited to on Facebook as you can. 
 It’s great if you’re best friends with your floor, but you don’t have to be. Try things that interest you and you’ll find so many people that want to know you! 
If you don’t enjoy your major, the classes in that major, or the people in those classes then you’re probably in the wrong major. 
It’s never too late to change your major. Find what you love doing, then get paid for it. 
This is your chance to make mistakes; make them and learn from them. 
Your approach to life should be “Yes! And?”—Say yes to everything that is legal and moral. Go outside of your comfort zone—you’ll never figure out your full potential if you don’t. 
Don’t decide you hate it here in the first month—give it at least a semester and a half. 
The initial transition can be a little rocky—but riding through it is worth it. 
It’s okay to let your group of friends change—you don’t have to marry your freshman floor friends. Find the people that share your passions and keep sharing your passions with them.

Monday, May 27, 2013

You're what now?

“What does it mean to be Catholic?” is about as broad a question as it is possible to ask. It is a difficult question to answer for oneself; it’s possibly that hardest question for me to answer after “What are you planning to do with a History major?” Part of the issue is that separating what it means to be Catholic from what it means to be me is a challenging task. Catholic is such an integral part of me that it is hard to figure out which things go in which category or if it’s possible to delineate them that clearly. The other challenge comes from the sheer vastness of the Catholic tradition. When you ask, do you want to know what it means for me to be Catholic on Sunday, at school, in the voting booth? It’s the same faith, but it means different things depending on where I am. Or do you want to know what it means for me as opposed to the kid three pews back, the one two to the left, the priest at the altar? Again, same faith but possibly radically different expressions. You have the ascetics, the monastics, the liberal, the conservative, the mendicant, the militant, the hippie (ie. Franciscan), the family-values, the Vatican II, the Old Church, the list goes on. They are all Catholic, but it’s rather difficult to be all of them at once.

Imagine the issues I have answering that question for myself or for my curious friend. Now, try to articulate it to the entire world. That is a daunting prospect. The advantage (curse?) of Roman Catholicism is that we have one guy who the whole world looks to for what it means to be Catholic. The man with that honor (burden?) at the moment is one former-Jesuit Pope Francis. He has the unenviable job of being the whole Church to the whole world. But, at the moment, I’d say he’s doing a pretty good job of it. At a time when Tweets carry as much weight as The New York Times, Pope Francis’ simple style is the most powerful declaration of what it means to be Catholic today. His quite compassion for all people loudly proclaims to the world that being Catholic means being for one another.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Social Obligations

(Scene opens on a man, sitting alone, typing on his iPhone. You hear the tapping of the ‘keys.’) 

 MAN: Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. No. Sorry, I’ve just met you and already I’m lying. I did see you there, how could I not when you’re wearing such an…interesting outfit as that. No, I did see you there, but I’m pretending to do something important on my phone so we don’t have to do that thing where we wave to each other in the distance but then keep walking at each other. I recognize you from class. You sit three rows back, four chairs over. I think you’re really smart, which intimidates me, which is why I’m pretending to be on my phone right now. That way, when you walk by, I can pretend to glance up and smile at you. Surprised to see you. But without that awkwardness. And you can just keep walking and I can just keep sitting here and we can both feel like we’ve fulfilled out societal obligations for the day.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Commencement Exercises

Commencement season is upon us once more and so we see proud parents and anxious soon-to-be graduates flocking to campuses to listen. And reflect. And sweat. It is easy to become a bit bored during the ceremony itself: the speaker can be dull, the reading of the names takes ages, and there is never enough shade to go around. Now for a moment imagine sitting through not one, not two, but seven of said ceremonies. Where the speeches are the same and the list of names nearly endless. But the advantage of being part of the choir is that it’s acceptable for you to read or write or nap, given you wake up in time to sing the Alma Mater. To kill time, having finished the book and play I brought to entertain myself, I endeavor to attempt an age-old writing exercise. It is hard to write speeches, harder still to write good speeches, primarily because it’s not something often done. So, soaking in speeches as I am this weekend, I’ve written my own commencement address. Forgive the presumption and triteness; I am truly bored.

Congratulations graduates! I fully understand that I am standing between you and some great party, so I’ll try to be brief. You are about to be handed a great gift. It is a gift that you have worked tirelessly for these past four years. You have paid…well, more than you probably want to think about for it. You have earned your degree, but that does not make it any less of a gift. It is a precious thing that you will soon hold, not truly encompassed in that small piece of paper with a beautiful seal. It is your learning, your passion, your wisdom that you will carry with you for the rest of your lives. This experience has brought you in to an elite group that few people in history have the opportunity to enter: you are now college educated. 

Some one once told me that challenges are gifts and great challenges, great gifts. And by the same token, gifts must also be challenges. You stand before you with a great gift, so what is your challenge? You already know it; it is why you chose to come here, to this Jesuit institution. St. Ignatius challenged his Jesuits to “Go out and set the world on fire.” That is the same challenge that stands before you today, as you walk across this stage. You don’t need me to give you that challenge; it has been given to you every day for these past four years. I am merely here to remind you of your duty to be women and men for others. To take your great gift that you have strived for these many months and go out to serve the world. 

I’ve given you a quote and a challenge. I’ve made a bad joke. The only thing left to do is leave you with best wishes for you future and congratulations on all that you have achieved. 

Freshman Reflection: To Wine or Dine

#66: Drink No Wine Until It’s Time

For many people, college is their first experience with alcohol. For others, it isn’t. And as you can well imagine, when those too groups get together everyone is in for a bit of culture shock. Given that parties are fairly large part of the social scene on campus, it is important to develop a relationship with alcohol that works with who you are. Importantly, you should try to figure out this relationship early. Like, first-party early if you can manage it. The reason for this is pretty simple: you make fewer friends vomiting on someone’s carpet than you do by not. Unless you’re goal is to spend the majority of your weekend bent over, it is probably wise to figure out what you’re plan is before you leave your dorm.

Most of the best pieces of advice I’ve received this year have come, perhaps not unsurprisingly, from my Stage Management professor. He, and I’m sure many others, cautioned that you should go to the party and then leave the party. Early. Preferably before 2 a.m. if you can manage it. Because nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. This is personal call, but I have found the post-2 period can be one of the best moments of your life or one of the worst. It’s up to you.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Freshman Reflection: A Guest Lecture

Don’t listen to any of the above advice; it’s not bad, but it’s not necessarily you. Don’t let anyone tell you what your college experience should be. Be yourself and make your own way. This one doesn’t need any explaining. 

It’s a quote from a friend, solicited in the final days of the semester. I figured in the spirit of full-disclosure, it would be good to present a bit of an alternate view. As this wise friend so succinctly states, this advice isn’t necessarily you. It might very well be the exact opposite of your experience at college or even in an entirely different dimension. But regardless, even this advising against advice contains some (yep, you guessed it) pretty standard advice. You hear it a lot from people as you’re are packing up in August and you hear it endlessly once you step onto campus. Be yourself. It seems like pretty standard, even trite at this point. But things become trite because they are true. Or at least, because they sound like truth.

My dorm floor became very close, very fast at the beginning of this year. The afternoons were spent milling about in the common room. We pretended to be working, but I for one could never accomplish anything in that room. I had never been able to work around others, but I told myself that I should be social. Get to know people. Make an effort. So I went. I talked. I got to know people. I went to parties with them. I’m not sure what it is like at other colleges, but for freshmen here the first few weeks go something like this: Get together in the evening. Try to find people who know about parties. Try to find said parties (usually in groups of ten or more). Be unable to get into said parties. Repeat until despair sets in. I’m not a party person, so this particular exercise held very little appeal for me. It was not until I realized that, yes, there are in fact other ways to have fun in college, that I understood how I could have fun while still being me.

See, a nice cliché story about being yourself. By the end of first semester, most people have one of these at least. And if they don’t, by second semester the usually do. It’s always reassuring to hear stories from people you respect that align with your own experience. That why things become cliché.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Freshman Reflection: Find a Doorstop

#6: Keep an Open Door

This is a great piece of advice because it works literally and metaphorically. As for the first, it might sound cheesy and it is but it is the easiest way to meet the people you live with. Leave your door open for the first few days and play some music. It gives people something to stop in and talk about. If you can bring something interesting for your room, even better. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had about the huge stage light I use as a door stop or the inflatable moose head I kept around for bit. It doesn’t have to be quite as eccentric as the moose head, although Chuck was a big hit, but just a reason to talk to people. You’re going to be living with them; you might as well get to know them.

Metaphorically, it is pretty obvious how this applies to college. You’re going to be having new experiences, meeting new people, learning new things. Be open to them. It will enrich your life endlessly. This is especially true at the student activities fair every school has in the fall. Sign up for everything that interest you. I never knew I enjoyed working with education policy until I signed up with a group that did (they had a cool logo, what can I say?). But now I’ve published a policy piece with them. Life can be cool like that (okay, maybe not cool…) if you’re open to it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Freshman Reflection: Who are you?

#15: Maybe You Don’t Know Who You Want to Be

If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t know who you want to be. You maybe know what you want to be, but who is a pretty big question. College is often billed as a great place to figure out who you are and so far for me it has been. Every introduction is an exercise is self-definition. “Hi, I’m a History major.” “Hi, I do student theater.” “Hi, I play football.” “Hi, I’m from New York.” Consciously or not these moments merge to form a sense of self that is free from as much of your baggage as you want it to be.

That being said, college should not just be a place to find out who you are. Why? Because its an expensive and work-intensive way to find yourself. A weekend retreat or a year hitchhiking in South America could be equally effective and doesn’t come with the price tag. Granted, I can’t think of many people who go to college for this reason. It tends to be a byproduct rather than an intent.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Freshman Reflection: An Expensive Nap

#104: Go to Class!

It's important. It's why you're here. It's expensive. Going to class is the single most important thing you can do, along with homework and sleep. (Just don't let sleep interfere with class.) I missed one class first semester. It was a large lecture and I was missing it to sing at an event, so I figured I karmicly I was covered. I'd just grab the notes from someone else and that would be that. Jump forward one week: I need to buy tickets home for Thanksgiving and can't find if that particular class was cancelled or not. So I email my professor. His response, "As I mentioned in class the other day, we will not have class." me professor knows I skipped. It was embarrassing. So, in short, go to class.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Freshman Reflection: Persistence

#5: Persistence Can Take You Far

College is confusing and a lot of the people there will have no idea who you are. But you're going to want/need to get things from these people. That is often difficult given the first point. This is why persistence is important. (Also, it's important in the grand cosmic "life" sense, but we'll start with getting things.) My first-semester stint as a reporter for the school paper put me in the position of needing things. A lot. Usually a quote or an interview with some fairly senior member of the administration who didn't really have time for me. And here I learned the joy of the cold email. "Hi Dr. Important. My name is..." If you send enough of them, someone is bound to reply. And then you talk to them, remembering to ask who else you should speak with about this. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Room 428

Two eyes stare out
As the sky explodes momentarily
A smile twitches and then the world goes dark
The shining beacon on the hill is all that remains
Steady red glow warding off devils and jets

Two eyes stare out
Thunder shatters the silence
Only to be overpowered by the steel snake
Making its plodding way across the field
Rain pelting its windows and hers

Two eyes stare out
at the same clouds
at the same rain
at the same world
As two eyes stare out, stare back
Torn and joined by lightning flashing
Across a sometimes shared sky

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Freshman Reflections

            They never tell you everything you need to know. This sentiment is wide-spread during finals, often directed at professors and TAs who didn’t highlight (or who did highlight and then you slept through) that one crucial piece of information on the final. In fact, this absence of surety is a hallmark of the college experience. Not sure where that obscure seminar room is. Not sure if the food at the dinning hall is fish or chicken. Not sure what you’ll be doing in four…now three years. Not sure who’ll you will be when you walk out those gates.
            As a way to combat that sense of not really knowing what the hell you’re doing, countless books have been published on college. This time last year, as a soon-to-be freshman, I picked up one or two of my own. They were informative (sometimes), funny (sometimes), but mostly they served to calm my nerves. Others had done this before and escaped relatively unscathed. Why couldn’t I? I arrived on campus a few months later, those trusty bibles packed away among my things, and promptly forgot about them. Life moved too fast those first few weeks to pick up a book, let alone one not assigned for class.
            Luckily for me, one of the books that was assigned to me for class turned out to be another ‘tips and tricks’ book, much like the ones gathering dust in my dorm room, that would help me start solving the what the hell am I doing conundrum. Entitled What They Don’t Teach You in Film School, it is a book of 161 strategies for making your own movie. Now pretend that said movie is instead your life and you will have an understanding of why this particular book is so helpful when it comes to getting your life together.
            As a way to reflect on my first year at college (wow…it’s over already…) and to hopefully share some whimsical, dare say, wisdom, I’ll be writing a series of reflection pairing life advice for freshman and filmmakers. I can make no promises about its accuracy, relevance, or usefulness. But I can promise words (and maybe even a few pictures). Make of it what you will.