23 February 2010

An open letter to college students, and students of life.

I once saw John Leguizamo speak and he said something that I really liked, which, at this remote later date I will paraphrase to "I'm not here to be a shining example.  I'm here to be a screaming warning."  I think this may have been related to his story of passing on "Philadelphia" to make "Super Mario Brothers: The Movie" because he thought he was too good looking to play Tom Hanks' lover.  I have had my own similar wacky paths through life and questionable decisions - for example, I saw him at TCNJ early in my career there, maybe 2003.  Now it's 2010 and I'm back to finish a degree that I abandoned four years ago.

I do not regret one minute between now and then.  Sure, knowing what I know now I would make different decisions, but I wouldn't know now what I do without doing what I did so....you see my point.  Now that I'm back, I've got some thoughts.  They apply most directly to college students, perhaps the 19 year olds that can avoid my mistakes by my insight, perhaps the 49 year olds going back after decades - and a minute I'll open this up to everyone, not just matriculated students.

Did you know that for many people, but most definitely for people privileged enough to be enrolled in institutions of higher learning, there is an entire network of people that are dedicated to not only your academic success in the sense of achieving excellent marks, but, if you really care and keep an open mind, are guides for an emotional, intellectual and perhaps even spiritual journey that will forever change and uplift you?  It's true.  I just noticed for the first time this semester that every single one of my teachers will accept papers early to give feedback.  Sometimes if you stay after class to ask a question they will direct you to resources.  One gave us the names of the research librarians that specialize in history and gender studies, respectively. Mind you, I developed a love of research librarians on my first go round as a student and knew they had master's degrees in library science; I did not know that they published scholarly articles and had specialized areas of expertise.  I knew I could ask questions when I stopped by the reference desk; I didn't know I could schedule a one-on-one appointment with a librarian who specialized in my field of research.  Nobody ever told me but, more importantly, I never asked.

That's probably the most important thing I have learned in the last few weeks.  These resources have always been open to me, yet I never asked.  I didn't have the wisdom, maturity, inclination or focus four to eight years ago.  Now I do.  College students everywhere should be asking for help and resources, even if they might not need it, just so they know what support & safety nets are there in case they do.  Employees should be calling HR to make sure they know about all of the benefits available to them.  We should all be talking to people about what they know and are passionate about, because we never know who is ready, willing and able to take us on the next leg of our journey.

(Photo credit: by Marc Meola,  TCNJ librarian from his Flickr)


  1. A few years ago I read "Escaping God's Closet: Confessions of a Queer Priest." It was interesting to me as I had been a student of Bernard Mayes the author, enjoyed his class. Talked with him when he showed up at the gay bar I was later working for in Charlottesville, but there was a whole connection to his story I never made until I read his book. I don't know if it was just the way that I approached school or if it was lack of specific networks to actually help me through, but I never felt supported when I went to school the first time around. I was a mess, sure, but I was a mess because I couldn't find my place. Felt isolated from the culture I was surrounded by and didn't quite understand how to adjust to the new reality and how work habits from high school wouldn't work in college. And what to even replace them with. And so I failed out. Took a break. And went back in a completely different direction later at a completely different institution. But I still obsess about that first experience, why didn't it work? There was a complete breakdown at the times I did go seek help. And yes, I didn't quite understand the resources were there or why I would need them until it was too late. I think schools need to do a better job of orienting students to be students. Orientation is a lot of fun stuff related to your new social experience, but how much time is really spent understanding college and college resources? And most importantly -- and this is something that has changed since 1992 when I first started college there needs to be a broader and more integrated network for supporting queer students both institutionally and through peers.

  2. "knowing what I know now I would make different decisions, but I wouldn't know now what I do without doing what I did"

    An eloquently put truth I ponder over every day. Your thoughts are so well put together.

    --Michael (@MarrvelousM)