Excuse me, I’d like to make a toast. I’m usually not one for formalities, but I’d like to welcome the class of 2015 to Ann Arbor.
Congratulations freshmen, you should feel fantastic about yourselves right now. No, but really, you nailed the ACT. You managed to remain in the top 15 percent of your class and coasted through senior year. Just a few months ago you received your Michigan-embossed acceptance letter. It was a silver platter, a metaphorical promissory note guaranteeing a bright socioeconomic future.
Enough with the pleasantries. You’re here now, and you’d like to know what it’s really like inside this place. If you ask that question the way your overzealous parents will during fall break, the answers will come easily. Yes, the cafeterias aren’t horrible. Yes, the weather is bearable. And yes, your fraternity’s beer olympics are highly competitive, and of course, you won. Just kidding. Underage drinking is illegal and immoral.
So here it is. Throw out any information your cheesy tour guide told you. We’d be kidding ourselves if we explained college in terms of green grass, pretty buildings and prestige. I’m not trying to insult anyone, but think about it — there are pretty buildings, unique restaurants and green grass in every college town. The one you chose to inhabit isn’t special. If you’re wondering what it’s like to be a college student, my suggestion is to do yourself this favor: Forget the reason why you chose to come to the University, forget rankings and forget showboating your acceptance letter. Let your father hang the letter in his office. Don’t worry, he’ll keep it safe. You have no use for it right now.
I know if I were reading this last year, I’d have a few four-letter words in mind. I’ve single-handedly diminished all you’ve strived for. Believe me, I know you were an all-star in high school. Yet, today you’re here, and here is an odd sanctuary in this country. College is a place where people think too hard. They think beyond sense and sometimes beyond their personal achievements.
Thinking beyond yourself — your achievements and views — is, I believe, the most valuable lesson I learned last year. It starts when you consider this: Your thoughts, your very existence and the world have all been shaped through the experiences you’ve had prior to stepping foot on campus. It’s a simple idea, and yet so often it’s out of reach. The way you think may not be correct (it probably isn’t.) It can and will change. Other people think differently, whether they come from across the world or down the street. Maybe they’re right.
If you get on board with this idea, you feel your core challenged on a deeper level than you’ve experienced before. This year, you may expect that in your fall political science lecture you’ll affirm why your political views are correct. After your midterm you’ll find problems not with your views but with our whole political system.
It begins to spread. Your new friends are “those people.” They begin to seem not so horrible after all. Maybe you won’t burn them at the stake. Maybe you’ll date one of them and not tell mom and dad. You might adopt the view your father has told you to ignore 1,000 times. You’ll explore and probably accept new political, religious and social ideas. Then you’ll realize views are everything but concrete, and you’ll change them once again.
You might look at people different from you and take something from their beliefs. You’ll be humbled a bit. I was, and I still am. This way of questioning everything around you won’t make you sure; it will make you radically unsure, at least temporarily. Yet, knowledge is not confirmation. Knowledge by its roots is new, and if you want to gain more insight, you must go beyond what you already know. And what do you know better than yourself?
So freshmen (I hope you’re still with me), give this philosophy a try— it would be hard anywhere else without dorms and libraries with millions of books at your disposal.
This difference will open your mind. Then you’ll know what being a student at the University can be like. Get ready. If it happens, many things you thought were important won’t be anymore — and you won’t care. You probably won’t realize it. It may be your greatest accomplishment.
Anyway, that’s what I think of Michigan right now. You might disagree in a few months, and so might I.
Eaghan Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.