Fel’s Regret List: my attempt to live vicariously through my students as they head off to college

Graduation-HatsThe last day of class with my AP English Seniors is always an emotional one. I’ve come to adore these scholars over the course of their high school careers. As I bid them farewell, I leave them with two final handouts: a reading list: Fel’s Kicking and Screaming List and a list of college advice, the content of my blogpost this month:

Fel’s Regret List: Wisdom in Hindsight from a College Grad

  1. Foreign Language. The more, the better. My do-over would include Latin (for a solid knowledge of roots and etymology). Never again will you have an opportunity to REALLY Learn foreign languages, and doing so will vastly improve your language and vocabulary facility in deep and authentic ways.
  2. Travel. Even though you will inevitably be broke in college, never again will it be as cheap to travel, nor will you ever be able to immerse yourself in a foreign culture for a prolonged period of time as you will if you study abroad in college. Trust me on this one.
  3. Don’t work too much. During the school year, work for petty cash, but not for tuition. College debt is both the best debt you will ever accrue and the best investment you’ll ever make. Dive in head first. Don’t spend all of your time studying and working (see #8 below).
  4. Take some weird, interesting classes, making yourself a little more weird and interesting in the process—consider judo, basic drawing, African literature, art history, Japanese, fencing, music theory, ballroom dancing…you get the idea. And (this is a beautiful thing) you can audit classes, so you can simply enjoy them without the stress of credits or grades.
  5. Cavort with your profs. Use their office hours. Most are pretty brilliant and fascinating creatures who love talking with their students one-on-one. Get help thinking through a paper you’re writing, ask for clarification of a concept in class, or just ask them their views on your latest ponderance about the universe. I have ALWAYS left professors’ offices glad that I had made the effort, and I saw almost all of my prof’s during their office hours at least once.
  6. Set an artificial deadline for your papers (1-2 days before they’re actually due). If you stick to that deadline, allowing yourself a day to polish, you’ll receive a higher grade, and more importantly, your paper will be significantly more focussed and eloquent, cementing the impression that you are a good thinker and an effective communicator.
  7. Pursue a scandalous love affair with your University Library. Need I say that these palaces of wisdom are oozing with morsels of knowledge yet unknown to your noggin? I’m talking about millions of books; thousands of magazines. So rummage around; shake up your thinking: humble your ego; get lost in the stacks! Play Fel by spending a couple hours in the library on Friday afternoons perusing magazines and journals you never knew existed.
  8. Read and heed kiosks! (the free-standing bulletin-board-like things with about 10,000 staples in each, located all over campus). They will alert you to the notable, the cool, the quirky—the campus goings on. Carve time out of your life to experience some of these things—never again will there be so much going on around you, and most of it’s free. This is your chance to become even more interesting, cultured, and worldly than you already are: musicians, foreign film festivals, poets, radical thinkers, foreign dignitaries, etc…they show up on college campuses. Take advantage of this phenomenon!
  9. Check out the local arts scene: repertory theatres, symphonies, art museums, etc…Most have obscenely reduced ticket prices for students. You’ll never have a cheaper opportunity for high culture!
  10. Disco on Fridays, climb a tree and stay there for a while, drop your backpack mid-campus and do a cartwheel, travel via pogo stick, have a stare down with a stranger…you get the idea. A direct correlation between the intellectual and the irreverent makes for a happy, balanced scholar.
  11. Keep a notebook of all the things you want to do, use, or remember (and start now!): striking quotes, “to-read” book titles, irresistible words, phrases, descriptions, facts, jokes, goals, anecdotes, anything, everything. The alternative is to forget many unforgettable things and/or spend countless minutes of your life searching in vain for little scraps of paper you jotted things down on. When you add to your notebook, read what was written before, massaging the dendrites. When  you fill one notebook, start another, and keep them all (and use the Evernote App if you’d rather be paper-free).
  12. Socrates says, “Know Thyself”; Fel says, “Challenge Thyself. Take control of your intellectual destiny, scholars! If you’re at school or in a program that isn’t adequately challenging or beneficial, make a change!  You are at the helm of your own boat, dear scholars, steer accordingly!
  13. Lastly, and most importantly: that little voice inside you? Listen to it! Call it what you will—your conscience, your soul, your deep-down gut instinct. It’s there, and if you really listen to it, it will lead you to the right place. Though I sometimes ignored it when convenient, ultimately, I did listen, and it led me to you, oh scholarly ones (a.k.a. a fulfilling career), my husband (the soulmate thing) and other unmentionables (that Fel, so mysterious).

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