Dear Graduate: Remember

How You Got Here

by David Chartrand

Most of you are no doubt agog over the adventures that await you as you leave home soon for college. Like being able to eat pizza every day for breakfast. I am not here to titillate you with such fancies.

You will discover soon enough the thorny choices that are the bedmates of personal freedom. What I wish to alert you to are the sights and sounds that won't be there when you are left on campus to fend for yourselves.

You'll know right off that this isn't high school anymore when you wake up and realize there is no one telling you:

To get out of bed.

To get back in bed.

To turn off the television.

To avoid strangers.

To go to bed and I swear I am not kidding this time.

To quit picking your nose.

To wipe your nose.

But not on your sleeve.

To help with the dishes.

To comb your hair, cut it or get it out of your eyes.

To make your bed.

To stand up straight.

To speak up.

To clean the "pig sty" in your room.

To come here right now before I count to three.

To look at your mother when she talks to you.

To NOT look at your mother that way.

To eat your dinner.

To take out the trash.

To settle down.

To grow up.

To stop growing up so fast.

To get in the bathtub.

To get out of the bathtub.


To hurry up.

To check your shoes for mud.

To go ask your father.

To dress warm.

To say thank you.

To say you're sorry.

To look both ways.

To wipe your hands.

But not on your clean shirt.

To kiss your mother good-bye.

Because I said so.

*  *  *

See what you're going to miss?

You're going to miss having teachers who know everyone in your family, who shop and worship in your neighborhood.  Believe me, to the university professors you'll be just another face.  You'll have to siphon from the well of their knowledge, as they will not force you to drink from it.

Never again will anyone remind you to do your homework on a Sunday night.  You can party all weekend.  It's your life.  Waste it only if you dare.

You are about to jump into the deep end of the pool of life, to sink or swim on your own.  Let no one throw you in too soon.  There is no shame in waiting.   If you aren't ready for this much responsibility and independence, then take some time off first.  Read, travel.   College will still be there when you get back — when you'll be more equipped to take what it has to dish out.  

Campus life will not so much build your character as reveal it.  Brace yourself now for the relativism you will find on campus.  Professors and dorm buddies will suggest to you that the rights and wrongs you learned at home are just circumstantial grays, that to reach a moral conclusion is to impose it on them. Stick to your guns. These people are not your friends. 

Watch out for religious cults that prey on frightened and lonely  college freshmen.   There’s no harm sharing your prayers and dreams with them,  but when they demand your mind and your possessions, it’s time to wise up and walk away.

If you must choose between what mom and dad told you is right and wrong and what your college philosophy professor tells you, my money is with mom and dad. They have a bigger investment in you.

One last thing:  Be not surprised by the tears streaking your parents' faces in September as they drop you off at the dormitory. They are not sad.  They weep because they are having an hallucinogenic experience.  All they know is yesterday you were little frogs and snails and puppy dogs' tails.  They have no earthly idea when you turned into this cocky young adult.  It is a surreal, mind-altering experience that will be much clearer to you when your own kids leave for college.

You, too, will cry now and then as you realize how much your family means to you, and how well they prepared you for this moment.   Remember always who you are; stand up for what you have become. 

But, for crying out loud, stand up straight.  Before I count to three.

© David Chartrand, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2014

Home PageHome.html

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This Chartrand essay first appeared on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal in May 1996. It has since been reprinted in many publications, in many languages, across the globe.