Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why Scholarship Matters

College is a wonderful time of growth, freedom, and change, and an experience that you are probably not yet fully aware of as the blessing that it is. To some of you, going to college is as natural as breathing…you have been conditioned since the cradle that you will one day attend college and have an outstanding four years to forever be known as “the best time of your life.” Others of you have crashed through barriers just to get here. Still others are attending because it just seems like the thing to do since you remain absolutely clueless about what else to do with yourself…and you just know that a career as a waitress at Chic-fil-A, although a very nice company, is not your true calling.

I am here to remind you of some very basic facts. These are well known to you, and you may sit there and go “yeah…yeah…yeah”…but I want you to really focus on what I am saying. In a world of caffeine, minimal hours devoted to sleep, and hormones (which…in reality is really very close to my own life…I’m 46), I realize that you are going to have to focus on what I am saying to you. So…ready…set…focus.

First of all, I want to remind you that college isn’t cheap. Remember this…if you hear nothing else…it was your hard work, the sacrifices of your family, the kindness of an organization that gave you a scholarship, the faith in you shown by the keepers of the university scholarship dollars, the fruits of surviving the paper jungle of the federal government also known as the FAFSA, or someone’s foresight who thought enough of you to save since your infancy that pays these expenses. You may not want to hear this…or you may think that someone owes you four years of college…but let me start by reminding you that if you are 19 years old in the state of Alabama…nobody owes you jack. Maybe your loving parents paid money into the PACT program for your benefit (as I did for my kids.) Well, even that program is under siege right now courtesy of the economy, and we are all sweating bullets to make sure that this program is propped up long enough to get you out. I know that’s what I’m thinking.

Secondly, please remember that your number one reason for being at any university is to get an education. While being a fraternity little sister, the perkiest sorority member ever, a cheerleader, SGA President, etc. is great, it is supposed to enhance your “college experience” – not replace it. Or perhaps your primary reason in going to college was to find a boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancĂ©/husband/wife, to get out of the house because your parents were driving you crazy, or because there was nothing to do in the small town you grew up in. However, you got here, you are now here, and you ought to just make the most of it.

Finally, remember that the real world is coming at you at warp speed. And let me go ahead and break this to you…NO…you really do not want to be out of college. Well, eventually, but not before you absolutely, positively have to be. It is easy to forget that within the next five years you will be expected to conduct yourself as an adult. That means paying your own bills, holding down a job that supports a lifestyle that you are probably not familiar with now but will be…unless you live at home or have parents who keep you in emotional “Pullups.” Funding your future non-lifestyle will be tougher for your group especially since credit cards will probably not be a “lifestyle funding” option. Even more painful is that you grew up with it and expect it, and getting married to fund it is also not really encouraged either. Everyone wants to wait to get married…so they just do without or (unfortunately) move in together and play house to make ends meet. But, that’s another lecture entirely.

The idea, though, is that you will one day be taking care of your own wants and needs. Oh, and while you are being an adult…today’s kindness shown to you by the student loan program will be coming around along with the payment book for the new car that you will no doubt find necessary. Fail to repay your student loans…and the government will take your tax refunds for about a decade and your credit report will also reflect that you were not on the ball. In this world of electronic reporting…remember…"you no pay…you no get good score". This will be problematic when you do actually meet Mr. Wonderful or Ms. Wonderful and decide that you want a house, 2.5 children, and a dog. Just so you know…the curly headed guy singing on the commercials is spot on.

Many of you feel overwhelmed right now, and cannot seem to juggle all of the many stresses in your life including boyfriends girlfriends, The Biggest Loser/The Bachelor/24, , tanning bed appointments, sleep, thank you notes, finding a summer job, parties, keeping the Freshmen 15/cellulite at bay, studying, and oh, yes…class.

Just remember that it is all pretty basic.

First of all, you must find your syllabus, your book, a pen that writes, and your alarm clock. Any notes that you have taken will possibly be helpful assuming that you were awake, they are legible, and are not the incoherent ramblings of a professor who likes to talk about his life and then test you on what’s in the book.

Second…read the assignment. I don’t care if it is boring. Of course, it’s boring. You will probably only be interested in about 10% of what you are actually learning in the entire four years you will be there. It isn’t YouTube and meant to be entertaining…it is life. Life is wonderful, but please dare to tell me something interesting about washing the dishes, cleaning the gradu out of the dishwasher, filling out a FAFSA, paying taxes, or taking continuing education classes in the summer months to keep your certification. See?

Next, go to class. Yes…every one of them. If your hair isn’t curled/straightened/washed…go anyway. If you are ill…go anyway. If you are THAT ill, go to the infirmary and get an excuse. The point is…you need to show up. This is the training that you are paying for to make you competent at whatever it is you are training to be. It really doesn’t matter if it is raining, you are tired, you were up late, you were out late, you are running late, you have cramps, you are hungry, you want to leave early for the beach, you just broke up with your boyfriend or if you have two additional “free” skips. I’ll go ahead and enlighten you. In the real world, your boss cares about none of the above. I’ve actually had someone who worked for me come to work and throw up in a trashcan and then would not leave until she finished her work. Now, granted, that is extreme. This is the level of dedication that people of my generation (who will be your future bosses) pretty much hold themselves to as a standard…and we don't think it is unreasonable. Surely with your youth and overall great health…you should NEVER be out sick. Just so you know…on average…vacation days generally total 10 a year, and sick days total 6 a year. Generally, you will receive fewer than 10 holidays…and if they fall on a Sunday…then that is just too bad. That means that there really isn’t time to be sick when you aren’t truly, honestly, commode-hugging sick unless you want to be sick on your vacation days or find somewhere else to work. Your Mama and Daddy might care…but I assure you…your boss does not.

Finally, remember that you are there to learn the material and the goal isn’t to find the easiest teacher…the goal is to find the best teacher. The better teachers make you work. Most students will go to great lengths (which involves work) to avoid work. This skill set called "work" will come in handy in the real world. And, these good teachers are the professors that you will never forget. People who come to college expecting to be spoon fed are in for a rude awakening. Those who somehow survive college by a thread will find that the working world is even in…”here is your desk, here are the files, coffee fund is $3, the bathroom is over there…have a nice day” for on the job training. Wish I were kidding. You have to be able to figure things out for yourself. Start now.

I can tell you these things because I can vividly remember sitting where you sit today. I know the fear of getting a grade back because I wasn’t prepared and the pop test just seemed so “unfair.” I know the sickening feeling when you hope against hope and then you get exactly what you deserve…and learn that “F” isn’t for “fantastic” – it is for “failure to perform.” However, after a reality check in my sophomore year, I also know that by simply doing my work, showing up for class, and considering it important enough to warrant skipping some of what I thought was necessary…I succeeded…and actually excelled. Granted, it helped to transfer to a different school, but due to my attitude adjustment, I graduated summa cum laude from a University in 1985. That “F” I made in Algebra as a sophomore was an “A” as a junior. The difference? I actually quit whining and just did my homework and didn’t quit going over the problems until I finally figured it out. Whining is extremely time consuming as well as annoying to those who love you best. I’m not saying that you are guaranteed to make straight A’s just by doing the basics. However, you will find that your professors are a whole lot more tolerant of the struggler who is well prepared, asks questions, and gives good eye contact than the genius who glazes over, shows up for class randomly, and really does not try. Plus, if you do not prioritize correctly, you also run a huge risk of being the kid you are trying to convince your parents that you no longer are. Parents are much like bosses...they don't care what you say...they care what you do. So, as is often quoted…put on your big girl panties and deal with it.

For some of you, I am preaching to the choir. For others, you honestly have not really recognized the fact that you are on that last socially acceptable level – college – before you are going to be expected to stand on your own two feet. Start now. Start today. If you aren’t doing well…find someone who is. Go to class. Say, “no, I can’t go to the (“insert fraternity house/church function/wings night/happy hour tonight" and mean it. Stay home (gasp!) on a Thursday night. Actually read the assignments. It is sad...but if you do these will be among the minority of college students...which will set you apart - in a very positive way - by default.

It is your future. You can do it. If nothing else…you will know what it was you bought as you grumble through ten years of student loan repayment. Skipping class is like buying season tickets and then not attending the games. What is the point of THAT? I know that you are more than capable, because I’ve been around your families for years. You may be young enough to be my daughter… I am the mother of a 19 year old freshman at another college…but you are no longer kids. So there.

Finally, because to those whom much is given...much is required…remember that it is not only yourself but your family that you are letting down by not giving your best effort. You are only as strong as your weakest link. None of you want THAT designation, I feel sure. Find someone who can mentor you and help you over the tough spots. I’m sure that there are many, many others out there also willing to help. Just ask. And study hard!

(This was originally written for a group of very lovely girls who may or may not have benefited at all. Some edits were made by a friend. This is from the archives.)

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