Our Universities: How I Spent my Summer Vacation

Graduates – In a few months millions of people like you, full of hope and anticipation, will transition from high school to college. Privilege may have provided engaged deliberative parenting, quality primary and secondary educational opportunities, and you may have personality characteristics that mark you for a successful college career. However — and I don’t like being the bearer of bad news — half of those who start college aren’t so fortunate. I suggest a positive action focus for the summer: Call it a counselor’s preemptive strike toward correction, redemption, or reinforcement.

“Be Prepared.”

Boy Scout Motto


Memorial Day is not here, but it’s time to think about Labor Day.   If, on your first day of college, you are asked to write an expose entitled, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” here are some ideas about what you can do and subsequently include in your maiden missive.

Read Regularly — You probably spend a great deal of time hooked-up to your Smartphone.  Don’t be fooled, they’re not really that smart.  Don’t put in your summer redux what Joseph Epstein quipped in a recent Weekly Standard piece, “The Reluctant Bibliophile,” about someone reading “War and Peace” on his Smartphone.  If you read great literature on your Smartphone, don’t lie, just downplay it.  Regardless, your reflection should include commentary on serious reading — something other than punctuation-less tweets, Instagrams, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, and Facebook posts, pokes and pontifications.  Read at least an hour a day. If you can’t find the time to do that over the summer, don’t start college in the fall.  Look on the bright side:  You ain’t gonna’ hav’ to write no stinkin’ paper.

Work Diligently – Get a job, a real one. Break a sweat. Come home too tired at night to do much of anything other than rest and, of course, read a little bit. This is excellent preparation for the time ahead at the university.  Self-discipline will make college a more successful investment.  Work engenders effectiveness. The College Board says that, Working teaches students about responsibility and can also reinforce what they are learning in school.”  And contrary to what some freshmen want their parents to believe, working 12 to 15 hours a week while a full-time student actually improves academic performance, rather than hampers it. Oh, and while working this summer, watch the boss when she looks for someone to do something extra — never the person standing around with hands in pockets or leaning on a rake; it’s always the busiest person.  The old adage, “When you need a job done find the busiest person you can and ask them to do it,” is an old adage precisely because it’s the truth. Engaged people accomplish.

Save, don’t Spend – Be able to report that you learned to pinch pennies. Instead of going out to eat with friends, stay home and cook a hot dog, or a turkey dog if you’re bent in that direction. Record in your magnum opus that you learned the value of frugality. An old Yiddish Proverb says, “A full purse is not as good as an empty one is bad.”  College debt has crossed the $1 trillion mark, and 35% of the students who graduate carry significant back-breaking, life-limiting, budgetary burdens.  A nod towards parsimony could be valuable and an indicator of wisdom and maturity.  You may not get an “A” but the faculty member who grades your paper will do so with admiration or envy, hopefully the former.

Serve Seriously – Commit yourself to meaningful activity beyond your paycheck.  When recounting your summer, declare honestly that you dedicated time and energy to something that would give you appreciation of, and responsiveness to, others in pursuit of your studies and aspirations.  The job I mentioned above would be an excellent start, but don’t stop there.  Volunteer at a hospital, undertake ministry at a place of worship: anything that evidences care for something larger than self.  H.W. Longfellow observed, The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service.”  Such thinking and action could round out your retelling of your respite’s romp.

Focus and Finish – During your “vacation” — not sure what you are “vacating” from — in all undertakings commit to completion.  Less than 40% of college freshmen graduate in four years according to the US Department of Education. A 2010, Minding the Campus post by Richard Vedder, “What Happens When College Is Oversold,” claims that the average student spends less than 30 hours per week on academics.   All of us remember how to start something but cannot figure out how to finish it. Check your attic.  Check mine. Become a finisher. It can be “War and Peace,” work, reflection, fiscal responsibility, social purpose or, “all of the above.” My counsel to you:  whatever you start this summer, be sure that you are able to honestly testify to having finished it.

BTW I can barely use my Smartphone, but I know, @TEOTD (“At the end of the day” for the uninitiated) this stuff is right:  I see its presence, or absence, daily.

3 thoughts on “Our Universities: How I Spent my Summer Vacation

  1. Thank you for writing this! If only this message could reach students sooner in their lives. I taught sophomore and juniors for the first time this semester, I typically teach seniors. What I learned was that I missed the memo telling me that students expect study guides for all of their tests and expect to be told the composition and topics of the test. I discovered this when I thought I was being generous with the first test by providing a study guide and was met with disgruntled students demanding information for the second test. My thinking was they should know how I test after taking the first one. apparently handing out questions prior to the test is commonplace now. I have students write narratives to give me feedback. one of them actually criticized me for not reminding them of a project that was required. They blamed me for not doing as well as they could have if they were reminded…… For some responsibility is a foreign concept. It goes across races and SES. I will say I do have about ten students who excell in each class who remind me why I love teaching. I am searching for answers how to combat the growing epidemic, and I think pieces like this are an excellent way to reach students before hey get to us. More teachers need to place emphasis on students owning their own learning.

  2. Good point, SP. But, in the words of a retired eminent person, students are now “customers” And you know the old saying “The customer is always right” in this era of “Recruitment and Retention.”

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