The Freshman Speech What your guidance counselor should have told you

August 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Each year, college graduation ceremonies are held on campuses throughout the nation, and departing students are given wise words of advice – the “Onward and upward!” sort of speech. But if they don’t know where to go by then, it’s too late.

They have survived—and hopefully learned from—all the mistakes they made as students and, during their time on campus, have been plotting how to get and keep a good job. So commencement speeches are like being handed a road map after arriving at the destination. A speech for beginners would be more useful; college freshmen need guidance, especially in Houston. So here are some sage thoughts on college life for freshmen entering Rice, TSU and UH.

GPA: It’s directly linked to your ability to stay awake in class.

Housing: If you are from Houston, move out of your home and into a campus dorm. That way your folks can rent out your bedroom for more than your dorm digs cost and they can turn a buck. You can still visit them on weekends while your mom does your laundry.

Finances: Your college tuition may exceed what you can make selling blood to St. Luke’s and stealing ducks from Hermann Park. Take out a college loan. You won’t have to pay it back; just do as your parents are doing with the federal budget: pass the cost on to your children. While a student, see if you can moonlight as a university president, especially at TSU. The pay is great and the perks are even better.

Keg parties (the highlight of college): If you tend to pass out after several beers, try not to do it while driving. If you throw up on a frat house sofa, don’t sleep on that sofa.

Football (the other highlight of college): The teams of all three Houston colleges—Rice, UH and TSU—have a smaller following than Ron Paul. You need to buy tickets, attend the games and watch your team get creamed. This teaches humility, which will come in handy after you graduate when the HR guy chuckles while reading your resume.

Your inability to win sporting events is well known. The entire nation recalls President John F. Kennedy’s famous line announcing our space program: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” What is not well known is that JFK uttered those words on Sept. 12, 1962, at a ceremony in Rice Stadium, and the previous lines in his speech were: “But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?”

Professors: Be nice to them. Some day they’ll make excellent employees.

Nicknames: You Rice students should not mind being called “nerds.” So are most Nobel Prize winners. UH freshmen, “Cougar High” is actually a compliment, like, “Man, I dig this school. I’m on a Cougar high.” TSU students, you still have to earn your handle. Start by wearing T-shirts reading, “TSU — The Harvard of Houston.”

There are several advantages to going to college in Houston: Science majors can study air pollution simply by opening their classroom windows; and I can’t think of better hands-on experience for studying DNA than at the HPD crime lab. Traffic engineering students, Houston’s subway system is world-class. Business majors, research the successful marketing of the Houston Oilers. It’s a textbook example. And remember, until relatively recently, Rice annually gave its coveted Enron Award for shrewd business tactics.

UH freshmen, your school has the famed Hilton School of Hotel Management, where tipping the profs is usually 20 percent. The school also teaches the Heimlich maneuver and the proper way to serve tomato salad with cheese, chives and salmonella. Rice students, if your campus health center can’t cure your acne, remember that you are just across the street from some of the world’s finest plastic surgeons.

It’s difficult to acquire an ivy-covered, tweedy college atmosphere in a big, modern, sophisticated city. Texas A&M, along with Sul Ross University and Rodeo Clown College, don’t have that problem. But Houston, while not a leafy village, has much to offer college students; otherwise we wouldn’t see so many kids from other schools here on weekends. (Maybe it’s so their moms can do their laundry.)

I can give you a few guarantees about your college career. You will change your major. A degree in psychology or philosophy sounds intriguing right now, but when it leads to a career as a shepherd or installing manhole covers you may regret your choice. It’s the same for English majors who will quickly learn to say, “Please pull up to the next window for your order.” I started college as a pre-med student because my father was a pediatrician. My choice didn’t click. The final blow came in biology lab when my fetal pig died and I was sued for malpractice. A young man I know majored in medieval history until, about half way through college, he learned there would be exactly one opening for a professor of medieval history in the entire nation the next fall. Today he’s a lawyer.

It will take some of you more than four years to get your degree. This is not the graduating Class of 2012.

I guarantee if you ever run for pubic office, someone will get a copy of your college transcript to use against you. You don’t need to make better grades, just hack in and alter your transcript.

Finally, I guarantee next August another freshman class will be plotting how to take your jobs. You have a one year head start. Get busy.

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