I had my first post-grad speaking engagement the other day, thanks to my shameless promoter (aka, my mother). She heard that one of the high school English teachers wanted to use his last few meetings of class time as a stage for current and former college students to share their insights and advice concerning college life…so I got recruited.
At first, I was hesitant to accept. I didn’t know what advice I could give them that they hadn’t already heard, and I am always wary of appearing at any former high school events for fear of being one of those people that never moved on or let go of their former glory. The former was more of a legitimate point; the latter is a hyperbolic phobia that relies far too heavily on the assumption that what other people might think or judge is worth fretting over. Whatever the imagined issues were, I obviously got over it.
I ended up enjoying myself. I spent most of the time divulging any helpful tips I could think of, ranging from the advantages/disadvantages to living on campus, what professors generally expect of you, free services (like the writing center, library textbook rentals, SI’s, etc.) that can help, the best way to make friends is to find people that have similar passions as you, yadayadayada. There was also a question/answer time, but those were mostly related to everyday happenings and scholarship questions. The main theme I wanted to drive home to them was simply that your college experience is a defining period of growth that you gage: What you put into it is what you will get out of it.
There was a moment when I told them that just because they’re from a small town does not mean that they cannot do well or are hindered in some way. I’m not sure if I was entirely clear on this point, but I hope they picked up what I was dropping. See, when I was about to graduate, a lot of my classmates (and myself) were told to start off small. “You’re from a small town, so why don’t you go to a junior college?” and “Don’t expect to make a lot of A’s in college” were little tidbits of unsolicited advice that followed us at every academic banquet and senior ceremony. I think I know what those people were trying to say, I just wish they would have approached it differently. I think they were trying to say that college is an adjustment, and it might take time and more of an effort to get the same results you’ve grown accustomed to in high school. Going from 5k to 50k can be quite a culture shock at times, but know that you’re not the only new person or small town newbie there. You can do well…providing you put in the necessary effort. That’s the message I think they were going for, and I hope I articulated that to the group I was talking to.
I just fear that the small town cycle can sometimes put restrictions or lowered expectations on small town youth. I think it was Mark Twain that said ‘small town people live small lives.’ I agree with that statement…to an extent. The level of that extent is often a struggle, to be quite honest. On the one hand, as I mentioned before, the limits of small town experience can be used as a crutch or excuse for lowered expectations, which I think is unhealthy. Sometimes, loftier ambitions are quickly judged and seen as frivolous; contrary to the way of life of small town USA in their very existence. It is not unusual for those that pride communal loyalty and bare-necessities in living to look at a ‘college kid’ as someone who must inherently believe that they are better than the people they grew up with. I’ve been judged this way, and it’s not fun. On the other hand, I sometimes fear that I am turning into that stuck-up person. Where I grew up and who I grew up with, for better or worse has shaped me into the person I am. Sometimes I’m glad I wasn’t born a rich city kid. Growing up around a smaller community that leaves you less option for technological distraction is healthy, I think. I don’t believe staying in a small town necessarily implies that you’re leading a “small life.” There are awesome people that live in small towns and build a tight-knit community for the Lord because they know that there are people outside the cities that need to be loved too. There are small town people that fulfill their great ambitions outside of the bright lights and bustling nature of a city. Wherever people live, you can make an impact. Sometimes, smaller numbers are needed to make a deeper impact, if that makes any sense.
Whatever the case, as long as you’re trying to reach your potential, you’re not living a small life. I mean, let’s be totally honest: all my issues and animosity towards my hometown come from specific instances and people that I had to deal with--- not because my hometown is a small town. I’d go into more detail, but I’m saving that journey into the rabbit hole for the psychological study/book deal that might come up in the future. The point (finally!) is: differences in nature (in cases of relative mobility) don’t have to be hindrances, and your experience generally boils down to the effort you are willing to exert.
Yep. I just needed to write that through for myself.