You are off to college! As you pack your coolest clothes, decide on posters for your wall, and assemble your electronics -- I hope you can find room for a piece of timeless advice (some even call it a commandment) from the Princeton Chapel -- Love your neighbor as yourself.
Loving your neighbor at college starts as soon as you move into your college and meet your new roommate or roommates. Students at Princeton often say that they learn as much through conversations with their roommates than in any class they take. As students at the same college you will have a lot in common, you also may be from different cultural, racial, religious, sexual orientation or geographical backgrounds. Loving your neighbor involves knowledge about who they are, where they come from, what is important to them and why. You don't have to agree with them on everything but take advantage of your close living proximity to learn about your new neighbor and respect them for their differences. Just as you want to be appreciated for who you are, practice loving your neighbor for who they are.
Of course, loving your neighbor involves more than just learning about them. Loving involves caring. While college is often described as the best years of your life it can also be hard as you and your classmates struggle with the pressure of social expectations and difficult classes. Loving your neighbor means noticing if your roommate is engaged in excessive drinking, eating problems or depression and helping them to get the help they need.
There are plenty of co-curricular activities that will provide you with the opportunity to love your neighbor. Whether you are involved in sports, a religious group, the arts, student government or cultural clubs you can be that person who includes and has a kind word for everyone, and provides a powerful loving center which holds the group together. While you do not have to be elected a leader to do this, loving your neighbor gives you a leadership role in any community.
Loving your neighbor extends beyond your dorm room and into the classroom. Even if you are entering college knowing you want to major in a certain subject, be open to the possibility of falling in love with literary characters, historical figures or current peoples across the globe whose lives have something to teach you about how to live your own. With loving your neighbor as a guiding principle, your studies will gain a sense of purpose. Consider how to harness the knowledge you are acquiring in service of the common good of all the world's neighbors.
Every university offers opportunity for service to the wider community in which the college is situated. At Princeton our Student Volunteers Council encourages students to tutor local school children, play piano for senor citizens, work in soup kitchens, or be active in environmentalist groups. Loving your neighbors who live outside of the college grounds will give you some much needed sense of perspective that transcends your grades and social network and will give you satisfaction as you are offering your service to others.
Most of this advice has been how you should direct love at those around you. But loving your neighbor as yourself requires that you start by loving yourself. Loving yourself means caring for yourself -- physically, emotionally, spiritually. And it is so important that you do this. Sleep when you are tired, eat when you are hungry, pray and mediate when you feel off center. Be as loving and forgiving to yourself as you are towards others.
Love your neighbor as yourself and college will be a wonderful adventure and will prepare you for a full and rich life. See you this fall!
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