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5 Summer Lessons

Maggie Oldham | Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I had the ultimate summer job: entire days spent on a beautiful white sand beach and entire nights spent partying on one of the United States ritziest islands. Could there possibly be a better way to make summer cash?Lifeguarding for three months on the beaches of Hilton Head Island, S.C. was not only the most fun summer of my life, but also taught some valuables lessons. I learned how to treat stingray wounds, use radio ten-codes and clear the water for Signal 200s, a.k.a. sharks. More important than learning how to properly apply sunscreen to which an hour of orientation was devoted, this summer gave me a good “heads up” at what single life in the “real world” post-graduation is going to be like. Spending a summer in near paradise taught me five valuable lessons and things to expect once I leave “the bubble.”1) Don’t expect to live glamorously the first year after graduation. On May 15, I arrived at the “resort,” my home for the next three months. Don’t let “resort” written on the brochure and front sign fool you. Although it makes the Howard Johnson resemble the Taj Mahal, the lifeguard apartments at the “resort” were typical apartments for young people just starting their careers. Read: safe, fun, but not nice.2) Expect to work with people from many backgrounds. There were 60 college-age lifeguards living, working and partying together with polar opposite personalities and diverse lifestyles, a studly Canadian Buddhist for example. Once graduated out of the homogeneity that is Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, an entry-level job will no doubt be just as diverse.3) You will not always get the credit you deserve. Lifeguarding on the beach is hard. You have to be in top physical shape. There are no rotations and only one 30-minute lunch break. And don’t expect to talk to other lifeguards; they are probably 100 yards down the beach. Not very many people were on the beach at 7:30 a.m. when the lifeguards each set up 30-plus sets of umbrellas and chairs before nine, only to tear those sets down eight hours later. Neither did many beach-goers know that the lifeguards worked 50-hour weeks with mandatory ocean rescue training. Don’t expect your entry-level paycheck to be a positive indicator of your hours and efforts.4) The friends you meet at college will be your friends for life. Students here are top-quality. My roommates’ visit for my birthday was a refreshing break from the lifeguard scandals that would make MTV’s Real World look like an episode of the Golden Girls. Make friends with the locals and party with your hot co-workers, but remember the friends that have been there for you these four years.5) Expand your comfort zone. I had never been to South Carolina. I didn’t know a single person. I decided to go because it was something I wanted to do and it was the perfect time in my life to do it. Don’t wait. After graduation, follow your heart. Go where you want to go and do what you want to do, be who you want to become. You will never stop thanking yourself.