“Learn, explore, and be a productive bystander,” says Champlain College graduate, Nyjah Strange.
In 2014, I left my home in Philadelphia and moved to Vermont to attend Champlain College. After looking back at everything I’ve learned and accomplished during my college years, I realize there are a few things I wish someone had told me before I left for college. So, here is my advice for incoming students:
1. Never forget your accomplishments and how you made them.
Keep a journal, blog, or diary, and record all of your progressive excellence. Write down your thoughts, emotions, decisions, reactions, and reflections. In five, 10, 20, or even 50 years from now, when you think life is getting rough, you can read what you wrote down and remind yourself how strong you really are. Whether the problem you are facing is big or small, with time, dedication, and strategic thinking, you shall overcome it.
2. Practice healthy communication skills.
Pay attention to your words—how you use them and how you react to others as you communicate. ‘Intent versus impact’ is an important lesson we should all learn and be aware of as we develop healthy communication skills. Not everyone speaks, processes, writes, or thinks the same way you do. We all come from different walks of life, and those differences are what make us unique. Because we all think differently, communication is key to any positive interaction.
3. Be mindful of what you post on social media.
Pay attention to what you post online because it stays there forever. The last thing any of us would want is for something associated with our social media accounts to come back and haunt us. For example, something you post today could interfere with getting a job, obtaining a letter of recommendation, or being accepted into the college of your dreams. Take a moment before you post to your social accounts. Ask yourself if you want this content to define your online presence in the future. A post can have bigger consequences than what you intended (see number two above).
4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
We learn the most when we do things just outside our comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone new. Apply for a work-study position you’re curious about. Ask for a raise. Be willing and ready to learn and experience new things in life. Stand up for yourself and also for others who are being silenced in your community. Try to be a person you’d look up to. Dive into things that make you uncomfortable—like moving away to college.
5. Never stop learning and exploring.
Do more than live in the moment—learn a new language, try new foods, study a new religion. Invest in your experience. Invest in your knowledge. Invest in your adventures. Invest in what motivates you to do what you absolutely love. Live and learn like you never have before.
Knowledge is the most powerful thing we all have the privilege to possess, and your diploma is the physical evidence of the knowledge you will have gained over your four years of college. The world is full of endless possibilities and experiences. Resolve to be a lifelong learner—you won’t regret it.
6. Be a productive bystander.
Don’t sit around and watch members of your community suffer through acts of oppression, silencing, and harassment. You can have a positive influence on your community when you show up, speak up, and lift up others. If people look up to you, be a leader and speak out against injustice in your community, school, or workplace. If you have privilege, use it as a platform to give marginalized people the opportunity to speak because some of them are continuously being silenced.
Be a sounding board for men, women, the LGBTQA+ community, the black community, the Hispanic and Latinx community, the Asian community, the African community, those who aren’t able-bodied, and different religious communities. Be a leader and open doors for different groups of people to express themselves and share their stories.
Over the next few years, you will blossom into individuals who are intricate, authentic, and unapologetic. Your passion and inspiration will take you far beyond this campus. As long as you stay true to yourself, seize the moment, and be the best person you can possibly be, your time at Champlain will be daring and memorable.
It takes a village to raise a child, and as your new village—and your new home, Champlain will do a fantastic job to help you grow. Good luck!