A classic haiku from my book, “Poems to Keep in Mind When You’re About to Do Something Stupid”:
When you’re out and about
Consider that little eyes may
be watching you.
You’ll attend a college or university, but you’ll be part of a larger community in (or at least near) a town or city. This is important for two reasons.
First, you should embrace the local community, taking advantage of all that it has to offer. During the academic year, much of this will be geared specifically toward you and your peers. When you start college in the fall, there will be events whose sole purpose is to introduce you to local activities and resources, and throughout the year you’ll be able to experience all sorts of fun and helpful things that enrich your college experience. But once again, if you aren’t proactive, you will miss out.
I generally find that people, years after they graduate, wax as nostalgic about the experiences they had in their college community as they do about the experiences on their campus. Just recently, I was in a meeting with someone, and we discovered that I used to teach at her alma mater. We spent several minutes talking about the university and its many great programs, but it’s worth noting that her first comment was that the city surrounding this university is such a special place. Great universities and colleges tend to be in great cities and towns. Capitalizing on all the surrounding community has to offer magnifies the positive aspects of your college experience.
Second, you represent both yourself and your school when you’re out and about, and this is an important, added responsibility when you leave the campus. We can argue whether that’s fair, but it is unquestionably one of the burdens of being an adult: Your actions are interpreted in a way that spreads the credit or blame to other people and groups with which you’re associated.
When my daughter was little, she accompanied me to the supermarket. As we parked the car, we saw two students in an SUV fly through the parking lot, barely missing an older woman who was pushing a grocery cart into the store. As we got out of our car, I noticed the SUV was doubling back, which seemed odd. The students drove even closer to the woman this time, scaring her half to death. Then, to make sure she knew they were annoyed with her for being in their way, they let loose with a stream of expletives that would make Quentin Tarantino blush.
That was all bad enough, but it crushed me to look down and see my daughter, eyes wide and mouth agape, shocked at what she’d just seen and heard. “Why are they being so mean to her?” That was a moment when my daughter, who up to that point worshiped college students and thought they could do no wrong, had some of her innocence stolen from her. To this day, the incident still angers me, and not only because of how it impacted my child. We knew the woman who was being harassed, and I knew something the students may not have: She was a volunteer in the career counseling center at the university. She was never paid a penny for devoting much of her free time to helping students, yet she was paid back, quite negatively, by two who decided to blow off some steam by traumatizing a complete stranger.
At least 95 percent of the student actions I see off campus are either neutral or reflect very positively on the individual. But that other 5 percent can be disastrous for the student, the university, and the community. Be part of the 95 percent — a positive representative for the college, your family, and most importantly, yourself. Having this mindset will lead to many favorable interactions when you wander off campus, and it will help you take advantage of all that the surrounding community has to offer.
Explore the local community whenever possible. You’ll find cool things to do, and you can probably find some resources that may help you in your day-to-day activities.
When you wander off campus, treat the people you meet with respect. You don’t need to go around hugging people, but a little kindness usually gets reciprocated many times over.
If you’re still in high school, you can use the free Noodle college search tool to explore 2- and 4-year institutions and learn which will be a good fit for you. Register for a free account to save school lists and share them with family, friends, and other trusted adults.