An occupational hazard (or should I say opportunity?) of my profession is that I often get last-minute calls asking me to substitute for some famous commencement speaker who suddenly can't make it.
Most of the time, this is fun -- I just like the fact that I get to play. After all, who remembers who spoke at their graduation -- much less what they said -- anyway?
Last month was different. I received a request to deliver a freshman convocation (I didn't ask who dropped out). Wow, what a concept, to get to talk to a group at the beginning of college, rather than when the trunk is packed, the car is idling, and students are waiting to grab their diplomas and go.
So I started to think about all the things I wish I had thought, heard, and knew back before my freshman year. Having a stranger who is not really famous come and say the same things that their parents have said may not be the most effective way to take in new information. But, as we all know, our kids listen to others better than they listen to their parents.
Back when I started college, the school had a Dean of Freshmen. Dean Hank Moses had a stern face that masked his jolly spirit, a cold stare but a warm heart, and a commitment to me and everyone else who called themselves freshmen. If you didn't know Dean Moses he would intimidate you, just by the way he walked. I think he walked that way to remind us that he knew what he was talking about, and that we should listen.
I hope everyone who goes to college finds a friend and mentor, champion and protector like Dean Moses. He was there because he wanted to be there for us. And everyone knew it and because of that we felt like we belonged.
His book, Inside College: New Freedom, New Responsibility, offers new students all kinds of practical advice and wisdom, can still be found on Amazon. Dean Moses passed away several years ago. Since he was not here to ask for the most current advice, I reached to my college classmates as well as others to step up and offer advice to fill the void.
Conventional wisdom would be to pick the top five things that every incoming college student should know. But by making a list of ideas that can fit inside a fortune cookie, I hope that maybe one or two things might stick.
So here goes, Class of 2018:
Michael Brown was supposed to start college this month. Instead, he was shot and killed just days before he was to begin what you are beginning: college. Make Michael Brown a member of your class and remember, "except for the grace of God, there go you." Live with the love that happens when you are doing it for and with someone else and, in this case, someone who never got the chance that you are about to embrace.
If anyone else has wisdom to add, please do so in the comments section below!