West Side Stories

A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.

Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.

The College Instruction Manual for High School Graduates

Personal, Kids, School

All across the country, teenagers are graduating from high school. And so it is in our house too. Our daughter, our youngest, graduates from high school this weekend. My feelings are all a-jumble. I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m melancholy….I’m too young for this! Regardless of how I feel, it’s still going to happen.

As my daughter prepares head to college, this seemed like a great time to give her the gift of wisdom. And so, I created The College Instruction Manual. It’s filled with advice, suggestions, cautionary tales and wisdom from family, friends, teachers, neighbors, mentors, professionals - people who know her well and some that don’t –on how to survive and thrive in college. (Some of you may recall that I did something similar for our son when he graduated from college.)

I was overwhelmed with the great suggestions, awesome advice and words of encouragement for anyone heading to college. If my daughter follows only half of this advice, she’ll still be better prepared than I was. Because it was all so great, it seemed a shame not to share it with the world…and so I’m sharing it with you.

Congrats to all of the graduates and please enjoy some excerpts from The College Instruction Manual:

• When you are just hanging out in your dorm room, leave the door open. An open door is an invitation to make friends

• Try to appreciate the relatively low responsibilities of your college years. As life goes on, the responsibilities keep piling up

• Close out Facebook and shut down your laptop and initiate a conversation, either on the phone or in person

• QUESTION: If you could do something knowing that you could not and would not fail, what would it be? Once you've answered that question, DO IT.

• Exercise. Run, bike, elliptical, weightlift, whatever. Just do something a couple of times a week.

• No doubt about it, life will hand you both tears of joy and tears of sorrow. However, it is how you handle each of them that will give direction to your life.

• Be accepting of everyone first, then weed out the weirdos.

• Get 4 or 5 balls in the air early in your freshman year and find what you want to develop. It is much better to cut back than it is to never try.

• Take an 8 o’clock class, I dare you. Don’t listen to everyone else--they are wimps.

• Don’t freak out if you can’t be “cool” or “interesting” or “fun” in the eyes of every person out there. In time you will find your place and it will be wonderful there.

• Learn from your professors, of course, but also from your peers, from your environment, from your successes, and most of all, from your failures. It is how we face adversity that strengthens us and helps us grow.

• Be sure to embrace your new city. Get out and see the sights, learn about the area. You’re a “resident” of this place for at least four years….get involved

• Strive to do well in your classes, but remember college is more than just grades. Don't obsess - you are in college to explore and learn – you're not there to be perfect. Employers will be interested to see the breadth of your activities and your enthusiasm and commitment to pursuing what you love.

• Be forgiving of others and try to compromise – living in close quarters can get on anyone's nerves.

• There will be times when you will not have your bearings and will doubt your abilities and your dreams, but that is when you will say “this too shall pass” and just hang on.

• Whatever is your passion, pursue it. If you want it badly, that's your passion. If you want to be something even if you do it poorly, that's your passion. I can't guarantee that you will get whatever you want, but I can guarantee that it will end well

• Don't eliminate the texts, or the chats, or the FB banter, but bring back the art of letter writing your first year away. Buy some stationary you love and some pens that glide on the page. Get everyone's address! Take the time to spill your thoughts and feelings out for an old friend, and she will return the favor. Never throw these letters away!

• When I was taking classes that required a lot of memorization, I read my notes while walking home from class each day and memorized the information from that day’s lecture. That way, when midterms and finals rolled around, I wasn’t trying to learn everything all in one night –

• Get to know your professors personally. You only do college once (hopefully) and building relationships with your teachers is one way to get the most out of the experience.

• Color Catchers in your laundry!

• Keep your dorm room clean. Some days, that may be the only thing that’s orderly in your life.

• Be kind, friendly and outgoing. Make friends before you make judgments. Remember that a friendly greeting you give someone may be the nicest thing that’s happened to them all day.

• If you know your character - and, more importantly, if you stay true to that character - then you will, as Thoreau said, meet with a success "unexpected in common hours."

• Take the interesting, even if not the most applicable, class. Participate in the unconventional activities. Befriend the unorthodox individual.

• Don’t skip class if you are going to be in the same building later and might run into the professor, they will notice that you weren’t there.

• Not having your parents around is a wonderful thing….at first. But then there is no one to blame if something goes wrong and that kinda sucks.

• Never go to a party alone. Take friends, and leave with them. College parties are fun, but they can be dangerous if you're not careful.

• Take the roommate agreement seriously. It looks dumb, but it can actually be very helpful.

• Make friends with people who don't party too much; the others will be gone after the first semester.

• Make as many contacts as you can. Keep in touch with anyone you think can help you down the road - especially when you are asking for jobs. Get business cards, email/send thank yous, stay on people's radars.

• Ask for help and advice. Don't be too proud to think you know everything. You know a lot - but there are people who have been there before you who can help - you just need to ask. And people won't judge you for asking for advice - they'll judge you if you do something stupid because you didn't ask for advice.

• Take pleasure in expressing your opinion. It’s as valid as anyone else’s.

• Enjoy your time in college – it goes by in the blink of an eye.

• Think “outside the box” and work to master skills that could apply to things other than your assigned work, rather than working for the grade.

• There are TONS of free opportunities on college campuses. Find as many as you can to take advantage of and save money!

• If you ever get the opportunity to, STUDY ABROAD!! It will be one of the greatest experiences of your life.

And my very favorite piece of advice that was offered by several people?:

• Home may be many miles away, but a loving, caring voice is simply a phone call away. CALL YOUR MOTHER.

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