The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

My quest to learn the musical instrument struck a chord much greater than the beautiful sound of a perfect stroke.
I decided to learn the guitar, but I walked away learning more about life
Bella Edmondson, Staff Editor • June 19, 2024

SMU graduate’s hindsight on college craziness

I empathize with the freshmen recently featured on the front page of The Daily Campus—the first exclaimed, “It was pretty crazy. Kind of a hit to the face, college and what-not,” while another reasoned, “I’m really tired, some of it’s overwhelming. But at the same time, I like learning.” For me, entering SMU three years ago came with a thrill of anticipation and with a whirlwind of ideas about the future that lay ahead—sort of a “hit to the face.”

I can’t imagine this emotional state is conducive to making long-term career decisions, especially as friends, family and faculty urge you to pursue every viable interest. Unbeknownst to the freshman, however, is what adults learn over many years: you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

For a number of semesters, I pursued degrees in finance, political science and, very briefly, even considered geophysics. Then I was done. I was eligible to graduate, and I suddenly thought my college years just came to an end. Not until then did I realize the rate at which time flies, and only then did I appreciate the greatest untapped resource at SMU: the intellectual community.

Although professors note attendance and foist unbearable syllabi upon the student-body, professors are still people. The faculty comprises renowned scholars and experts in various fields, and each is courageous enough to teach a class full of students who are not unanimously attending college strictly for an education.

Young school children might assume the teacher lives at school, only surfacing for the weekday activities, but in reality professors at SMU lecture for a relatively small portion of each day. Beneath the obscure knowledge of founding fathers and the understandings of complex biological functions, the lecturer is probably enjoying a rather interesting life.

Ask and you might hear a story about the professor’s time in the Kennedy Administration during the Cold War, or about black holes in time-space from the vanguard of the scientific research. For the Class of 2014, the former may be a more eye-opening experience, since the majority of freshmen were born in 1992 after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

So to the incoming class, I offer unsolicited advice: Engage with the minds around you. As you hurtle through the academic curricula and rack up the resume-builders, consider the value of a great thinker on campus. Expand your mind, man, but not in that way. Instead, in the way Oliver Wendell Holmes would recommend: “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

Pursue a conversation with a scholar in a field outside of your own academic interests. You can gain great insight by considering the extremes and by thinking about the opposite of which you are directly concerned.

If you study dance, find out how social and cultural influences developed dance over the millennia. Or if you study physics, think about the psychology of politics and about the atom bomb—physics’ contribution to the gamesmanship of international relations.

Capitalize on this fleeting opportunity to interact with world-class minds; you might realize what I just now understand. In the day-to-day minutiae of classes and extracurricular activities, I failed to recognize the purpose of college—learning. And I most definitely did not comprehend what a pleasure reading, writing and occasionally arithmetic would become once these activities were no longer requirements tied to a grade. So make time to truly engage in your schooling, while you still have the chance. As Henry Davy Thoreau would say, “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

An infamous professor reminds his students that classes are not “speed bumps between parties.” He just might be right.

When you approach your studies with the desire to learn, the requirements seem less like thankless, unending chores. If instead you count the school days until summer break—like rolling Sisyphus’ rock up the hill only to watch gravity reverse the progress—you end up viewing each new semester as a laborious task rather than an opportunity. With this mind set, it’s easy to ignore the only consistency of college: your own education. At an institution for higher learning, students get smarter—but some gain more ground than others.

In short, always consider the next time that your primary job will be learning and your responsibilities will be reading, thinking and, sporadically, writing.

Soon you’ll realize the college roller coaster will come to an abrupt end.

So class participation aside, talk to your professor. He or she might provide the ice for that “hit to the face.”

Matthew Tullman is the Senior Advisor for Student Affairs and Programs for the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, and the Tom Medders Jr., Research Fellow of the Tower Center. He can be reached for comments or questions at [email protected].

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