One of the best lessons that my dad ever taught me (and believe me, there have been a lot of them) is that one of the most valuable habits that you can ever adopt is, simply, “going to stuff.”
I don’t mean it in its most literal sense, like showing up to class or to doctor’s appointments or to anything in that persuasion. I mean it more as in trying new things—anything and everything that is remotely interesting to you.
My dad, a [sometimes too] proud Allegheny grad, always told me that his plan before starting his freshman year back in 1979 was to try everything that Allegheny had to offer, and see what he enjoyed in life from there.
The strategy worked wonders for him, I think. It was through that attitude that he found his career path and his favorite hobbies. The fruition of his “try new things” attitude was plain to see throughout my childhood, yet, like most children, I always just shrugged it off or said “yeah, yeah, yeah—try new things, I get it.”
But as usual, despite the wise words of parents or mentors, it takes firsthand experience to truly learn a lesson. And, now in my sixth semester of college, if I had to give one piece of advice to incoming freshman, it would be the same mantra that my dad has preached for decades—“go to stuff.”
And in retrospect, I think that potentially the best, yet most overlooked, “stuff to go to” are guest lectures sponsored by universities. Institutions of higher learning host dozens of events each semester that feature academics and professionals from all backgrounds. One can learn a great deal from attending these lectures and events.
I think the biggest complaint that I hear from college students is that they do not know what they want to study, much less what they want to do for work after graduation, and I find that sort of funny.
Constantly, there are professionals—all accomplished within their fields—coming to tell students who have the interest enough to attend their lectures all about what it is they do for a living.
Guest lectures have certainly helped shape me and my career prospects. At Pitt, during my freshman year, one of my English teachers convinced me to attend a guest lecture series that he was sponsoring called the “Contemporary Writers Series.”
Every week, emerging authors would come and talk about their publications, the writing process, etc. Hearing them talk about their craft instilled in me the curiosity to get more into writing on my own, and since then, writing has become my favorite hobby. More recently – last semester – I attended a lecture held off campus about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that was so insightful and intriguing that it furthered my desire to one-day work in international politics.
Even if the guest lecture doesn’t provide insight on your personal hobbies or your career, you will almost always walk away from them with something learned. Thanks to university-hosted lectures, I have heard a Holocaust survivor speak, learned about the problem that arise when an ecosystem’s population of white-tailed deer is too high from a prominent ecologist, heard the story of a wrongfully convicted man who spent over a decade in prison, and more. And after each event, I left with a whole new perspective on certain issues and was, overall, more aware of problems that I had never really considered previously.
So if I had to give one piece of advice to freshman, it would be to go to guest lectures. No matter what, you will learn something—and if you are lucky, you will learn who you want to be.