Stephen’s Top College Lessons

It has been extremely difficult for me, but I am finally coming to terms with the fact that my life is going to change drastically after graduation.

I recently accepted a job in Charlotte, so I suspect moving away from friends, learning a new profession, and being the “new guy” are all going to be tough. But, I know my biggest task will be dealing with the fact that I can’t wear my wonderful Crocs to work everyday. The thought that I can no longer treat them as all-day, all-purpose footwear keeps me up at night. It is really going to be a…feet…to find an appropriate alternative.

In reality, I wish my Croc debacle was my biggest fear at the moment. Starting my job at ECS, finding my niche in a new city, and filling a new role in my family are all terrifying tasks. Thankfully, college taught me a lot to help me address adulthood and its changes, so I would like to use my final blog post to share those lessons. Here they are, with an essence of those online periodicals I despise: “Stephen’s Top College Lessons.”

Adults can have hobbies

This might seem an obvious fact of life to some of you, but to me, it is something I had to realize myself over the past few years. Sure, I knew that people had weird uncles that built ships in bottles and that some moms had mastered the unwonted, yet somehow distinguished art of scrapbooking, but I did not understand that those amusements were important and integral to people’s lives. When I entered college, I remember giving up hobbies and habits that I enjoyed so I could donate time to fascinating things like staring into microscopes and deciphering bond angles. These things were essential to my education, but would drive me crazy if I spent the majority of my time undertaking them. So, throughout my senior year I have made a point to do less homework and focus more energy on things I enjoy. I have spent countless weekends playing drums in a soul band at bars all over the state. I read a lot of Star Wars books. I argued politics. And I found out I’m better at baking phosphates at 900 degrees Celsius than I am at baking cookies. Maybe my GPA got a little closer to three than four, but I had a wonderful senior year, and I would not do it much differently.

Friends exist to help you talk through problems

One of my favorite professors once said that women need to run the world because if men had the chance, they would sit in a recliner with a beer and watch football all day. He’s right. That is all I ever want to do, and I know (hope) my friends and I are going have a lot of fun watching the Panthers’ new backfield. Men are stereotyped to hate talking, but I attempted to combat that hatred and fear by speaking my feelings and asking for advice whenever I could. Guess what? My friends did not let me down. Actually, they even surpassed my expectations and helped me with every big decision I have had to make during the past few months. Sure we still argue draft picks, but we are also comfortable talking about the best way to go after one’s passions, how to know your place in your family, and how to approach civic involvement as an adult. I can not imagine how difficult it would have been to accept my job or plan my future without talking to my best buds first, and I hope that my friends and I continue the healthy dialogue we have constructed.

Life deals you a bad hand sometimes, and I think it is important you play the bluff rather than fold.

Interact with strangers

I get it: talking to the pizza man or the girl checking out your groceries at Harris Teeter is awkward. However, just like you, they are people that hate work, enjoy jokes, and think that riding the bus in silence is awful. Everyone on this planet is inherently connected by the fact that we share the blessing of life, so there is no need to treat strangers or public situations with fear or anxiety. Everyone that has ridden an elevator with me knows I love to ask “Who’s driving this thing?”, and I think that more people need to address their shared circumstances in the same lighthearted manner. Pope Francis just gave a TED talk about the solidarity of the human race, and although he might have been addressing more substantial problems like refugee crises and world hunger, I think he would appreciate the elevator joke. Having fun in inconvenient and uncomfortable situations has provided me with a better sense of just how connected and analogous humans are, and I think that mindset will be integral in my generation’s attempts to solve the immense problems facing the Earth.

A stoic outlook towards unpleasantness is important…

If the philosophy classes that I Spark-noted my way through taught me anything, it is that reason and logic are some of the abilities that make humans the special creatures they are. In order to take on the difficulties that life has thrown me, I try to apply reason before anything else. If a meteorite flew through the sky and destroyed my car, I wouldn’t cry about it. Actually, I’d be pretty excited but that’s beside the point. I would make a list of the next logical steps, get a ride to work, and continue on with solving the tasks at hand. When my roommate Garnett’s fan fell on him in the middle of the night, he didn’t curse the universe (he actually cursed the electrician). He threw the fan in the hallway and went back to sleep. I know it is difficult, but we have to approach our problems that undoubtedly arise without too much emotion. Make a plan and stick to it.

…and humor is too.

I will not harp on this too much because it is fundamentally the topic of my previous blog post, but it is important and I had to include it in my last ode as a Goodnight Scholar. Life is challenging and laborious, and anything that allows us to retreat from that fact for a little while is essential to our mental health. For me and the people I love, humor is beneficial to relationships, work productivity, and problem solving. Smile as much as you can. Life deals you a bad hand sometimes, and I think it is important you play the bluff rather than fold.

Remember to say thank you

Being born and raised in the South, I understand the significance of “thank you.” If my goofy self made it to 22 and graduation with as few bumps and bruises as he did, a lot of thanks are in order. 

I owe Dr. and Mrs. Goodnight every accomplishment of mine for the rest of my life. I could not have attended college without their support and generosity. Their love and hope for the future will continue to be a force in my attempt to pay it forward.

Whether they know it or not, the Goodnight Scholars Pro Staff are more responsible for my graduating college than anything else. Jen’s sweet letters of encouragement and gifts of plant life helped me get through a hellacious first year, and for that I will always remember her as a vital source of solace and comfort. Allison’s cheer and caring attitude for every scholar is one of the things that makes this program a family. Being able to walk into her office and receive a hug at anytime of the day has made college much easier for me, and I am going to miss her lovable leadership very much. Jay is a role model unlike any other, and I can not thank him enough for providing me with advice and insight whenever I asked for them. If I am ever President of the United States, he would be my first choice for Chief of Staff. I have spent a lot of time in the Goodnight Lounge, and one of the best parts about it is the consistent happy presence of Nicole. I hope she has enjoyed her time with the program as much as the scholars enjoyed having her be a part of it.

I have friends that I have known since kindergarten and I have friends I met only a few weeks ago, and I love every one of them. They challenge me intellectually, make fun of my numerous flaws, and cause me to laugh until it hurts. I could not imagine life without you.

My cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, and mother are some of the most wonderful people on the planet. You have all raised me, and your unfaltering love and support will always be a source of my energy and happiness. I wake up everyday and pray that I do not let you down.

Although my wonderful dad is no longer physically a part of this Earth, his love, lessons, and joy are very much a part of my life. Every day I think of something I would like to share with him, but because that is not possible, I simply strive to be more like the man he was. I love you dad.