This is my second annual blog post giving five thoughts to new students. Last year—when I wrote the first piece—Welcome Week was coming to a close, and my role as a senior Peer Leader for a freshman Cornerstone course was about to begin. In that first post, I focused primarily on spiritual goods. I still affirm everything in that first post. However, in this post, the focus will be a bit different.
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First, give the benefit of the doubt. I am well aware that our default response towards something new is skepticism. That doesn’t mean it has to be. In his book, A Theology of Reading, Alan Jacobs argues that Christians should have a loving reading of the text. He means that when a reader comes to a text, he should set aside suspicion and, instead, seek to enter the world of the text on its terms. I would take this one step further. I think we should approach other people and their ideas without immediate suspiscion. Or, to put it more simply, give other people a chance. Do this with Chapel. And with your classes. And with suggestions made by your professors. Realize that the world could be bigger than the vision of it you have constructed.
Second, read widely, and outside of your field. I suppose this gets to the core of the matter: why are you in college? If you are in college to get a marketable degree so that you can make a good life for yourself and your family, then more power to you. If you are in college because you didn’t know what else to do, then welcome. If you are in college because you love learning, then you’ve come to the right place. For whatever reason that you are here, make the most of the intense academic environment. It won’t come again. Read everything assigned for every course, and perhaps more if you are interested. Take courses well outside your major. Expose yourself to different ideas. See what happens. College is unique in its ability to create a space in which you are invited to discover yourself. Because the rest of your life will be concerned with other important concerns—like making a living—use the time and resources and space in college the best that you can.
Third, meet with your professors outside of class. This has been a true source of formation and wisdom for me over the years. I’ve discovered that my professors have rigorously thought through almost every question I have come up with to ask, and they often have unique and insightful perspectives. Your professors have office hours for a reason. Use them. There is a reason your professors are teaching you: they love the material. It is something alive to them. Go to their offices and ask them about their life’s work. See if you aren’t caught up in the excitement of learning!
Fourth, participate in artistic events. Universities are unique in many ways. One of those ways is that they are teeming with creativity. Take a bunch of young minds, lock them up together while asking them to think, and the results can be very interesting. From open mic nights, to poetry slams, to poetry readings, to art shows, to concerts, to theatre performances, art is part and parcel to the culture of the university. Some of my favorite moments in college were the times I chose to spend my evening watching a play or listening to poetry. I felt connected to the world in a way I rarely feel otherwise. It is stimulating and thought provoking. One of my favorite events in all of college was when some of my poetry was published in the campus literary magazine—The Shinnery Review—and I came to the release party and read my poems.
Fifth, spend time off campus out in the real world. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the bubble. Especially at ACU, it is possible to hardly ever leave campus. As freshmen and sophomores, you sleep there and eat there as well as go to school there. But there is a whole world outside of campus, and much of it isn’t nearly as pretty and airbrushed as the marketed university is. Getting off of campus means you will realize the great privilege you have to be getting an education, and perhaps you will then take your gifts and education, meet Jesus at the cross, and seek to address the fallenness all around us.
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May God bless you and keep you and make is face to shine upon you and give you peace this year.