A (Few) Word(s) of Advice to Incoming Freshman

Jacob Akey

Dear new students,

Over the past days and for the near future, you have been and will be carpet-bombed with platitudes. I do not blame administration nor your orientation leaders for their excesses. It was difficult to write this without resorting to banalities. But, unless you have a much stronger constitution than I did one short year ago, you are sick to death of hearing the virtues of your peers, yourself, and Saint Anselm College. I was. This is not meant to insult the institution you are now a part of. In fact, this piece aims to impress upon you just how rewarding the process you have undertaken is. I am simply promising that I will try not to bore you (much).

College is like puddling. Puddling is a metallurgical process whereupon undesirable pig iron is exposed to extreme heats to burn off carbon. The result of this process is more desirable wrought iron. A raw material without practical value is taken, transformed by the practiced hands of experts, and made into something greater than it was before. This process is not without cost. The pig iron is irreparably altered as the good is separated from the bad, the wheat from the chaff, and the before from the after. Change, even positive change, is difficult.

With that caution in mind, welcome. When you first entered High School four years ago, you were most likely told that the coming years would be the best of your life. I sincerely hope that this was a mistruth. Rather, I anticipate that these next four years, here at Saint Anselm College, will be your best.

They will undoubtedly be your most revealing. It is a cliché that a young person goes to college to find themselves. I prefer the metaphor of college as a forge rather than some introspective journey. Better honed than hippy. This Hilltop intends to fashion you into a different and more enlightened person (more on that in Conversatio). However, the application of heat and pressure reveals more of the object being forged than the foundry. What are you made of?

Will you buckle at the first midterms? When you need help, will you muster the resolve to reach out to that professor who seemed so intimidating during class, or will you remain frozen? Will you choose to make new friends (and it is a choice) or cling to those who symbolize a safer, more cocooned past? Will you embrace newness or shrink from it?

Some of you will not like the answers to these questions. The person you find under heat and pressure will not be one capable of success. Some will find more carbon than iron. They will crumble. Others will find their edge. They will perform at a level they did not believe themselves capable of.

I do not know what divides those who succeed and those who fail, only that it is internal. Some measure of one’s soul. There is a freedom in the test, in the measure. Like a trapeze artist making the leap or a musician on stage, every action and reaction is your own. The state of being responsible for oneself is no burden. Consequences can be every bit as positive as they can be negative, and for once in your lives, you have absolute control over the actions that proceed them. If you can handle the pressure, the freedom is exhilarating. The difference between driving a car and a go-cart is potentially catastrophic, but who would trade their license for carnival tickets?

I have three pieces of advice. First, learn to juggle. Multi-taskers succeed where others falter. If you neglect a social life in pursuit of academics, you will find no success in either. Second, stay grounded. An A in ceramics does not a professional potter make (that one’s from experience). You will learn new things and exciting skills during your time here. Do not mistake a passion for a marketable skill. Finally, don’t be afraid; fear is the mind-killer. Take a class in a subject you know nothing about. Go to Mass when you haven’t been in a while. Join a club. Ask her out.

Most of all, good luck. This will be hard, but it is the hardship that makes it worth doing