What follows is a letter to my daughter, Kristin. Feel free to read along.
As I write this, you have returned to Western Carolina University for your second year of school. Let me begin by saying how proud I am of you. A year ago, you won admission to college and then did well academically and socially your freshman year. This year, you have returned to Western Carolina a week early to learn how to mentor freshmen who plan to major in education. That makes me proud.
I think you’ll find your sophomore year less stressful. That doesn’t mean classes won’t be hard; they might be. But at least college won’t be new to you. As I’ve told you before, it took me a semester to figure out how to succeed in college. After that, my grade point average improved significantly my second semester freshman year, and it only got better my sophomore year. I think you’ve learned the key to college success too.
Another good thing about sophomore year is that you’ll begin taking more classes in your major. That’s a useful thing. In my sophomore year, I took my first classes in my major, journalism, and continued taking classes in what would become my second major, religion.
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In those earliest journalism classes – news writing and news reporting – I learned how to do what would become my job. In other words, the classes had a practical application. But more than that, I had wanted to be a journalist since two Washington Post reporters brought down a president, so in those journalism classes, I was following my passion.
As for the religion classes, I took a couple of those my freshman year because I was interested in early Judaism and Christianity. I took more my sophomore year, partly because I was still interested in religion but partly too because my religion professors were really smart men with inquisitive minds.
Essentially, they taught me to wonder about the history and origins of religious texts and the historical and cultural backgrounds of the authors and their audiences. We even explored the grammar and syntax of texts. I found it all fascinating, and along the way, the classes taught me to think critically and analytically, skills as important to a journalist as news writing and news reporting.
I hope your sophomore-year professors are just as good.
My sophomore year in college also gave me the opportunity to begin practicing my chosen profession by joining the staff of the student newspaper. It was invaluable experience that no doubt benefited me two years later when I began interviewing for a full-time job.
I don’t know if Western Carolina has anything similar for education majors, but if it does, I hope you join. Like I said, the experience was great; in my years at the Daily Tar Heel, I covered speeches by the likes of Alex Haley, Jesse Jackson, Tom Wolfe and Pat Robertson. But I benefited too from simply being around other student journalists. In my experience, most were smart and curious, two requisites for journalists.
And that leads me to this piece of advice: Be curious. It’s good to be smart; smart goes a long way. It’s better, I think, to be smart and curious. Being curious will make you a better student and, one day, a better teacher. Just as important, it will make you a lifelong learner, and what’s the point of living, really, if we aren’t always learning new things?
Living is better with good friends too. And I was fortunate to find a good friend in my college roommate, Lee Sullivan. Lee and I became such good, lifelong friends that when his wife had serious surgery some years ago, I sat with him in the hospital. And when your Uncle Eric died, Lee made it to my mom and dad’s house before I did.
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him and vice versa. And to the extent that I am outgoing and sociable, I owe all of that to Lee, who never met a stranger. He knew everyone in the dorm, and everyone knew him.
I’m not sure that things happen for a reason, but I sometimes think the Good Lord made Lee my roommate so I could, years later, teach my daughter to be outgoing.
I know your freshman year roommate experience was not great. So while wishing that you will always be curious, I wish also that you find a roommate who will be a friend forever.