Present is just as important as future

Recently I participated on a panel of faculty who were asked to give students advice about how to succeed in college. As a professor of writing, I write and speak to many groups of students. I must admit, though, that this was one of the toughest assignments I have faced. What advice could I give students in five minutes or less? My thoughts went back to one afternoon when I was conferencing with a student and asking how her semester was going and what her major was. She appeared to be bored, and finally she answered my questions about school by saying that she just wanted to “get out of school and get into the real world” of earning a living, buying a house and so forth. I recalled a similar conversation with another student as we were walking across campus after a class period. He seemed very motivated telling me about his career goals, but then he said that he wished he could just take courses in his major and not have to take required courses such as English, history, science and math. Both of these students were doing something useful: they were planning ahead and looking forward to the future. Yet they were also missing a lot. They were in school, but they were paying attention only to what they would do once they had left school. This is a very typical thing we humans do. We are always looking to the next item on our schedules. For example, right now, as you read this, your mind might wander. You might start thinking about going to lunch or doing an assignment that you must hand in later today. Often our bodies are in one place while our minds are someplace else. We race through dinner because we have somewhere else to go; we race through a phone call because we have something else to do. In the same way, we go to school, but we only look ahead to what lies beyond school. That is unfortunate because school has so much to offer and it seems wasteful not to take full advantage of it. As a student, you have your whole life to earn a living, pay a mortgage, raise a family and accomplish all the other important things you want to do for a fulfilled life. You may already be doing these things. Whatever your situation, your four years in college may be one of the only times in your life when you can intensely devote yourself to your own development. Your college years are a special time for learning about yourself and the world. On the Northern Kentucky University campus, you can learn, question, discuss and debate anything: how businesses and economies work, how the physical universe functions, how the nations and cultures on this planet got to be the way they are, why human beings behave as they do or how human beings have expressed themselves in art and literature. On this campus, you can explore whatever you want to explore, learn whatever you want to learn, and reflect on whatever you want to reflect on. Few places in the world offer you this kind of opportunity. You must plan for your future. Please do that, and enjoy doing that, but don’t miss out on the present, and don’t ignore what is directly in front of you. Dive into school. Attend every class every day. Introduce yourself to your professors and go to your professors’ offices when you have questions. Introduce yourself to your classmates so you will have someone to talk to about your courses. Don’t just come to campus, go to class and then leave. Stay a while. Do some of your homework around the new lake area that is being built in the center of campus. Get involved. The NKU campus is an active place with much to do beyond your courses. Join a campus club or student organization. Go to sports events or arts events. Attend a film or lecture or play or music performance on campus. Plan for life beyond graduation, but along the way, enjoy living the life of a student. Have a great semester!