An Open Letter To Guys Starting College

Photo Courtesy Marlin Nartea

This week, many of you will be leaving home to embark on a journey of freedom, adventure, self-reliance and discovery. I wish you all the best. You are the generation of hope. Do us proud.

Here’s a bit of advice to help you grow, achieve and be the person you want to be. To help yourself, and to help others. Because the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sorry to hit you so strong out of the gate, but it’s important to hear and absorb. You have built a community in high school which is about to sunset. Every person, personality, freak, geek, jock, asshole, rich kid, preppy, gay, lesbian, thespian, nerd, “can’t remember your name but I high-five you everyday” person adds to the hyper-real melting pot that is high school. Love it or hate it, everyone contributes a dynamic, splashes in a piece of flair, and a one-of-a-kind human tapestry is woven. That beautifully rich moment in life can never be recaptured, so come to that realization early.

Just because you know something will never be the same, doesn’t mean you have to be ok with it. This reality of missing friends, family and experiences will hurt. And being sad is ok. Accept it, allow yourself to feel homesick, and never feel bad about feeling bad. But don’t let the idea of the past prevent you from taking strides towards the future. It‘s easier to open yourself up to new experiences when you are untethered by the old.

Start out the way you want to end. Many freshman have a hard time managing the freedom, but remember school is the reason you are there. The competition starts now, and it’s important to do whatever you can to achieve the life you want to lead. Go easy on the drinking. If you smoke weed, don’t let it destroy your drive. When college students smoke, it makes them content with sitting on a ratty couch, eating cheese girls and binge watching Columbo. That’s not your best life. Although, Columbo…

Not everyone does. To some they are objects, trophies, set pieces. Hopefully, many of you have opened yourself up to respecting and loving the women in your life, but there are those who do not. We see it in the news, we see it from the President, we see it on 13 Reason’s Why. We want you to do the right thing, and begin a relationship with women that will extend through college and to the workplace. Everyone has a light, so turn yours on and teach others who need some help in this area. One person can make a difference, and the world wants that difference to be you.

You will see shit go down. Heavy, adulting shit. It sucks, but you will. And you need to be prepared to do the right thing. When a friend is drunk, step in. When a female friend needs to be walked home at night, step in. When guys are aggressive towards a woman, step in. When someone is in danger from drugs or alcohol, call the police and step in. And if you witness a sexual assault, step in. Please step in.

You will need to think about that now, and have a plan. Because there is something called a Bystander Effect. Basically, if one person sees someone who needs help, the likelihood of stepping in is 75 percent. But as the number of people increase, those willing to jump in drop to 10 percent. Seems weirdly counter-intuitive, right? But there becomes a perceived diffusion of responsibility coupled with social influence. That happens when you see how others act and do the same. Fucked up, yes. But once you know it, you can beat it.

The easiest way to take care of your needs is to listen to your body, the moment you feel it. Don’t fight it. Instead, observe and accept it. Taking care of yourself is sometimes made overcomplicated. It’s actually quite simple. You just need to listen to how you feel, and follow along. Your body and mind will lead you down the right path.

They will get weird. I know, because I am one of them who did. To us, it’s about the cycle of life, and that’s why it becomes so emotional. Every moment means something to us. Every stage we go through carries with it an opacity of the stages before it. And your parents will stare at you standing in your dorm room and see your preschool self. We will feel the tears come on, befuddled as to how this can all be happening so quickly. Be there for them, as they have been there for you.

This is the beginning of your adult life. You will face relationships, jobs, and will ping and bounce and find direction. You will sleep on couches, and decide to drive to Colorado in the middle of the night. You will slowly forget friends and discover new ones. You will get married, frantically try to warm a bottle, go for diapers at 2 am, clean skinned knees, help with homework, and eventually watch your own kids leave the nest. It will go fast for you, just like it did for the rest of us. So try and take your time. The days go by slow, and the years go by fast. Be present to enjoy this moment. Then, enjoy the next.

Today, differences are not always celebrated. We see the politicians ban, blame and vilify others. And people are listening. Even if you believe it, deep down you know is not right. College is a time when you should remain open to learning from others who are different from you. Accept people, no matter if some things about them are confusing. You don’t need to know why people love, feel or act a certain way, you just need to know that they do. And that needs to be enough. When people are made to feel bad about their differences, they feel like the world is against them. It’s important to be the person who is there for them. So open yourself up, and try.

It is important to always take responsibility for your own actions and use the gifts you have been granted to create a positive impact. Help others when you can, and show kindness at every turn. We all need to balance the scales away from darkness. There’s just too much of that going on.

So much of your learning will be outside of class. Navigating friends, classes, obligations, schedules, relationships. Through high school, hopefully many of you have tried to be yourself, to stick to your beliefs, and grow into wonderful sons/grandsons/brothers/boyfriends/teammates. Let your body be your guide. If something feels out of character, then listen. Groupthink is prolific and dangerous, and independent thought is difficult. But strive to discover the things you believe in, and always do what feels right.

Wonder why most people don’t do the right thing? Because it’s hard. But don’t shy away from it. You are the generation who have watched families being taken at the border. You are the generation who have seen your peers across the country gunned down in their classroom. You have read about women being sexually assaulted and the privileged attacker getting off. You have seen the worst of humanity, but also the best. You have seen people throw themselves in front of gunfire, confront a sexual predator, and jump in when people are being racist or homophobic. There is a beautiful side to humanity, and we are counting on you to bring that out.

So good luck. Enjoy your freshman year, and never stop learning. We want you to be the generation that will fix the things our generation never could.

Co-Founder Cast Iron LA agency. Webby Judge. Satirist. Contributor to FastToCreate, AdWeek, HuffPo, Digiday and others. I fight fire with humor.