The best college advice
Matt McMahon | Tuesday, March 15, 2016
I’m graduating in two months, and I want to leave behind some parting advice for anyone who has anywhere from just those two months to three or four whole years left in their time at college. In my almost four years at Notre Dame, I’ve noticed it is very easy to fall into routines. The campus is pretty self-sufficient and there are plenty of fail-safe systems set up expressly to make sure you remain comfortable and complacent.
Yet these same systems very much can, and do, put potentially harmful limitations on your college experiences. But that talk is for another time; come find me in person and I’d love to have a conversation about my takes on everything from the dorms to du Lac to students’ access to South Bend. I’ve experienced both the highs and lows of the social structures created by the University’s carefully constructed path for student life — again, come find me for my side of a fairly funny story I’m not going to get into here — and have come away with one general piece of advice.
Simply put: try new things. More specifically, don’t feel it is ever too late in your college career to try something for the first time, or feel that you’ve passed some initial entry point to a new experience. In my four years, I told myself I would try at least one new thing and try to stick with it for the rest of that year. If I still liked it after that I kept with it; if not, I moved on with, at the least, the comfort — or, in some cases, the slight discomfort — of having tried it.
My freshman year I joined the Student International Business Council, and while I didn’t like the culture, I got to work on a couple real-world, creative-minded marketing projects. My sophomore year, I started writing for the Scene section of this very newspaper, and you can guess how that’s gone. Junior year, I explored a few of my interests in comedy, both in writing and performing, and am constantly trying to wedge those into the everyday. I also began my second major late that year and, as such, have dedicated my senior year’s “try something new” slot to making sure I complete it.
I am incredibly thankful I challenged myself to this “one new thing a year” rule because it was the catalyst for at least one of the most foundational activities I’ve participated in here over my four years. Through working at The Observer, I met my closest friend at Notre Dame, and have formed many meaningful relationships with people to which I probably would have otherwise never gotten close. In fact, hands down the three most formative, influential people on my time here I met as a result of what boils down to following a passion.
What I’ve taken away from this is that there are most certainly other people at this school passionate about the same things you are, and they are waiting for you to join them in exploring those passions. There are no barriers to entry — you can join at any time and with as much or as little prior experience and you will, no matter what, be not only accepted and included, but also befriended. And if there are barriers to entry, that’s probably a sign you don’t want to be a part of that thing. Or, on the off chance your interests aren’t represented by a group or club yet, you bet there are others out there waiting for one to be created — like, for example, the Notre Dame Memory Team founded in 2013. Who knows, taking that plunge and joining The Observer as an inexperienced staff writer just might lead to you three years down the road starting a podcast about cereal with one of the other writers — except don’t do that exactly, ‘cause that’s my thing.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.