Previously published but updated here as the council is still worthwhile.
High School 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 and 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.
Boy Scout Motto
Memorial Day is not here, but it’s time to think about Labor Day. If, on your first day of English 101 you are asked to write an expose entitled, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” here are some ideas about what you can do this summer and subsequently include in your initial epistle.
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 include in your summer rumination what Joseph Epstein quipped in a 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, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook posts. 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, “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 — it’s always the busiest person, never the person standing around with hands in pockets or leaning on a rake. “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, “Az me shport nit dem groschen, hot men nit dem rubel” (If you don’t save the penny, you’ll not have the dollar). College debt has crossed the $1.7 trillion mark, and nearly 45 million Americans 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. One-third of college freshmen graduate in four years according to Lynn O’Shaughnessy. 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 at some point 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.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His reflections are available at www.walterwendler.com.