Tomorrow you are leaving for college and there are a million things I want to tell you. Every time I see you, I want to be able to say something profound, something that you can use as you learn to navigate the world on your own. Mostly, I end up saying something like “Anything you need help with?” You always say “No, I’m good.”
I am left hoping that over the past 18 years I have said the things that you need to hear. I hope that I have shown you by my words and my actions what you need to know to become the man that I know you are. Most of all, I hope that you know how very proud I am of you, and that your mom and I love you more than you realize. You won’t understand that love until you have a child of your own.
I know, you are 18 and the last thing you want is advice from your dad. I know that you think that I probably don’t know anything that can even be applied to the life of an 18 year old. After all, I’m old. What could I possibly know about being young and on my own for the first time? This is the 21st century. Times have changed, and the time I grew up in is ancient history.
Mark Twain once told a story about his father. He said that when he was ready to leave home, his father was one of the most ignorant men he knew. But, when he returned home a few years later, he couldn’t believe how much smarter his father had gotten in those few short years. I admit that I still have a lot to learn, I can only hope that we both learn and grow over these next few years.
No letter I write will be able to tell you everything that I want to say. I hope that you have picked up most of this over the past 18 years.
Much of our time together was spent on the ball fields where I volunteered to coach every team you were on. From the springs and summers we spent together on the baseball fields, where I taught you to throw and hit and to always stand in the batter’s box even when they threw a fastball, to the years I spent as your football coach teaching you to be a part of a team and to not be afraid even when the other guy is bigger than you, to the cold winter soccer practices and games where I taught you not to quit, and that when you lose you do so with dignity and grace.
First, please remember that college is a great privilege that most people don’t have. I recently read that only 36% of Americans have a college education. Never forget this. A college education is not something that you are owed. It is a gift. In high school, you and the other students had to be there. It was required. In college, no one makes you go to class. No one cares if you learn. In college, you are on your own. Having the next four years of your life to grow and to learn new things is a rare opportunity. Please, always remember that. But, also remember that having a college degree does not make you a better person. That comes from within. Never look down upon someone who has not had the opportunities that you have been given.
Next, going to college is about more than being a student; it is also about growing into the man you will become. While becoming a good student is important, becoming a good person is what matters.
Now, here are some of the things that I hope you already know as you go off to college.
- Go to class and study hard for each class. Joe Paterno said, “The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.” Going to class will give you the information you need. Participating in class will give you confidence. It will show your professor that you are interested and that you are trying. Sit in the front row, it eliminates distractions and gives you a much more personal learning experience.
- Be confident in yourself. When Venus Williams was asked about her attitude she said “Some people say I have an attitude – maybe I do – but I think you have to. You have to believe in yourself when no one else does. That makes you a winner.” You have grown up in a small town in Mississippi protected by parents and others, and now you are being thrown into a large university to be all on you own. You will want to fit in. You may think that you need to change in order to do so. Know that you can be the person that you are. Do not change in order to please others. This includes us. I do not expect you to follow my footsteps. Be your own person.
- Being confident doesn’t mean being cocky, be humble. Strong people know how to be confident while respecting others. This is a time to meet new and different people. Make an effort to get to know people of different races, religions, cultures. This country is great because of our diversity. We are all stronger and better because of our differences. Embrace them. Respect them. Listen to them. Learn from them. But remember, they can also learn from you. Share your experiences with others who have not had the opportunities that you have had.
- Be kind to others. You were taught that manners are important. Hold the door open for others. Smile when passing strangers. Help someone who falls. And, never laugh or take joy in another’s misfortune. It is the little things that count. These are the things others will remember you by.
- Get involved and take advantage of opportunities. This is a time to experiment and to try new things. The opportunities are endless. You will have the chance to play new sports, study new philosophies and religions, and participate in activities you don’t even know about yet. But remember; don’t get involved for the wrong reasons. There are a lot of groups out there, and plenty are worth joining. But some can also harbor prejudices and outdated or misogynistic ideals. Don’t be one of those guys. Trust your gut. Be smart, be yourself, and do not let anyone make you feel you need to do something or be a part of something if it is not in line with your values.
- Be a gentleman. This is similar to being nice, but it is more than that. There is a very good chance that college is where you will meet the person that you will spend the rest of your life with. Being a gentleman will increase those odds significantly. Stand when she enters a room, walk on the outside closest to the street, pull out her chair, open her door, don’t walk ahead of her, give up your seat, carry her books or her bags, hold her umbrella, be on time, compliment her, walk her home, and always pick up the check if you ask her out. I know that these things sound like they are from another era. Actually they are. But, these things will show the world that you are not only a man, but a gentleman.
- Read, read, read. You will be swamped with reading. You will read textbooks, notes, study guides and all sorts of other things for class. But, don’t stop there. Read news articles and current events. This will keep you updated and will make relevanty some of the things that you study. It will give you subjects of conversation in social settings. Read opinions of experts. These will challenge you to think of things that you haven’t thought of. Read opposing views. These will take you outside of your comfort zone. And, most importantly, read for pleasure. Read a novel or work of fiction that is not assigned in class. Read for fun, just because you want to. Reading is the mark of an educated man.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Challenge yourself. Try new things. Do not stay comfortable. When I learned to water ski I was told that “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t learning.” Sometimes we have to fail in order to learn. Don’t be afraid to fail. Vince Lombardi said “It’s not whether you get knocked down, its whether you get up.”
- Take care of yourself. You only get one body. Don’t abuse it. Eat well, exercise, get plenty of rest, and don’t abuse alcohol or other substances. Mom will not be cooking for you. Eat healthy. The pounds come quickly and stay for a long time. Workout every day. Get in the habit of exercising now. It is much harder to start as you get older. Don’t cram for exams and pull the all-nighters. If you budget your time and keep up every day, you won’t need to stay up all night. You will be rested and ready to perform. Finally, I know that there will be pressure to drink and maybe even do other things. It will happen. But, resist the temptations. These things have ruined more lives than you can imagine.
- Don’t forget where you came from. Take the initiative to keep in touch with your family. Don’t just text, call home. And, don’t just call to ask for money. Call your grandparents. Check in with the people who love you and who have supported you and helped you get to where you are. Tell us how you are doing even if things are crazy and even if there is nothing wrong. We just want to hear from you. We want you to succeed and to be happy and nothing else.
I know there are a million other things I want to say before you go, but I can only hope that you have learned those things over the past 18 years.
It is a strange feeling; a part of me doesn’t want you to go. But, a part of me wants you to go farther and fly higher than I have ever gone. And I want you to go. To go and be who you were meant to be. And I want you to go, and to live and learn and love and do better than I have, to make your mark in this great big world. But I also want you to remember everything we taught you. I know that you have to go. I want you to go and explore the world and learn everything you can. I want you to become whatever you were born to be.
But remember what we taught you, me and your mom. We raised you right. We raised you to be independent and strong. We raised you to be kind to animals, to help small children, and to respect old people. We raised you to know right from wrong.
Remember to do your best, but also remember that sometimes your best isn’t good enough, do more. Remember that you only have one chance to make a first impression and that many times there are no do-overs. Remember that life is not always fair.
Remember everything. Everything we taught you. And, remember that we are here. We will always be here for you.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of SuperTalk Mississippi Media.