Advice for Seniors

“Do you have any advice for us?”

It’s a few days before the last day of classes and the seniors don’t want to spend any more time analyzing the Federal Reserve’s response to the financial crisis.

Who can blame them? My mind is on the future these days, too.

“Write an advice post on your blog,” they say. Then, they get back to work preparing for their debate on the Federal Reserve.

So, if they can power through their senioritis,  I guess I’ll get to work, too. Senior women in B-Block Economics, this one’s for you.

Note to everyone else: one of the perks dangers of teaching is that it’s easy to convince yourself that you are as wise as the students think you are. Let’s agree to pretend that’s true for a few more minutes while I get my hubris on and offer them some advice.

1. Everyone is insecure.

I spent a good deal of college feeling like I wasn’t quite “enough.” I was a great student and I made good and lasting friends, but I always felt a little bit like a misfit.

At my twenty-year college reunion I found myself in conversation with some of those people I’d been intimidated by. They were talking about all the things and people they had been intimidated by. Come again? One of them even mentioned my brains. Huh. 

(Bonus advice: go to reunions. They are funny and they give you an excuse to think about your life. Also, there’s a good chance that the crush who ignored you senior year will have lost his hair. That will feel better than it should.)

2. If you have a terrible job, juggle glasses.

My freshman year I worked in the dining hall. If your dining hall has a conveyor belt, imagine riding on your tray all the way through the little opening in the wall where it disappears. I worked on the other side of that wall.

Worse than that, I worked on the other side of that wall during dinner on Fridays when students were starting to let off steam for the weekend. Young people do terrible, disgusting things to mashed potatoes and patty melts after a few beers.

My job was to scrape the mashed potato castles and ground beef sculptures off those trays. Pete’s job was to take the glasses off the trays, dump out the mashed potatoes and fruit punch, and load the glasses in huge plastic racks.

Pete would grab a glass from a tray, toss it into the air, and catch it behind his back. Then he’d grab another, until he was juggling six at one time while trays kept rushing by. I never saw Pete break a glass.

I was homesick that semester in the dining hall. Pete made me feel like I could be happy.

(Bonus advice: don’t put mashed potatoes in your fruit punch in the dining hall. Extra bonus advice: don’t actually ride your tray on the conveyor belt. That would be weird. Extra super bonus advice: don’t keep that dining hall job for too long, Pete or no Pete. Dorm mail carrier–that was a good job.)

3. Try not to hurt people more than you have to.

You are going to have to hurt people sometimes. Maybe you will tell your freshman roommate that you want to live with someone else next year. Perhaps you will disappoint your parents when you realize the needs of your heart don’t align with the needs of their expectations. Someday you might stop loving someone who still loves you.

Life is complicated and sometimes it’s really hard to figure out how to be good. Don’t waste your karma hurting people when you don’t have to.

(Bonus advice: when you do hurt someone, don’t fake apologize. People hate that shit. Bonus apology to non-teenagers: Sorry about the profanity. Teenagers like that shit. Bonus homework assignment for Econ B: Debate the following proposition: O’Shea just fake apologized. Be prepared to argue either side.)

4. Don’t use the ice bucket in hotel rooms.

Old people soak their teeth in them. Don’t ask me how I know that.

(Bonus advice: If you have a long drive to college, you can always count on O’Reilly Auto Parts.)

5. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

I’m just kidding. That’s terrible advice. (Trust me–I’m your Econ teacher.)

Did we remember to make you read Hamlet? Laertes, son of Polonius, is heading off to college. Polonius, perhaps fearing that he has forgotten to raise his son, starts spewing random advice. You can watch Bill Murray in this scene if you follow the link. Go ahead, click on it. I’ll wait.

I always thought Polonius was being sort of silly and arrogant in that scene. Then I started writing a blog post full of advice.

(Bonus advice: Make a budget. Live below your means. Be frugal when you have to be and generous always. Extra bonus advice: That thing Polonius said about friendship (did you watch the clip like I asked you to?): “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel”–that was good advice. Do that.)

6. You don’t get extra credit for being strong.

Be as mature as you can pull off. Try to be decent. Be kind. But strong? Sometimes strong is stupid. Let people help you.

(Bonus advice pop quiz: Fill in the blank with appropriate bonus advice: ___________________________________________________________)

7. Like what you like, not what you think you are supposed to like.

I like Dancing with the Stars. I can tell you the complete plot of a Brady Bunch episode in thirty seconds or less. I’m a halfway decent Texas Hold’em player (I’m not kidding–I won a tournament in Laughlin one time).

People with MBAs and PhDs in English aren’t supposed to like these things. Sue me. I’m happy.

(Bonus advice: Love who you love, not who you think you are supposed to love. You should probably make sure that point ends up in your notes. In the scene before Polonius gives Laertes advice, Laertes gives Ophelia advice. In a nutshell, he says: don’t love that Hamlet guy you love. Things go badly from there. Bonus writing advice: don’t bury your most important point in the parentheses after number 7.)

8. No one is just one thing.

You’ll have to figure out what to do with this advice on your own. Someday you will need it, and I promise that it’s true.

9. See that face in the mirror?

Like that face. Say nice things to it. Treat it as well as you treat your good friends. I think I was in my forties before I figured this out. Skip those twenty years of wishing your face looked like somebody else’s face. There’s absolutely no upside there. Use that extra time to read Hamlet.

You are going to wake up with yourself every single morning of your life. You’ll probably wake up with other people sometimes, too, and that can be nice. But you are the one who will stick around. Make sure that person is someone you enjoy hanging around with.

10. You don’t need my advice.

I was halfway through writing this post on your last day of class. You started giving advice to the juniors. You told them to stand up for themselves and trust their own choices. Then you advised them not to stress out comparing themselves to their friends. Finally, you reminded them that they can get a good college education anywhere–that what you put into it is more important than where you go.

I just sat back and smiled. Class of 2018, relax. You’ve got this.


If you’ve got advice for the class of 2018, feel free to add it in the comments, and don’t hesitate to share this post with your friends.

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