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Welcome to Harvard, wherever you are.

Students, you will make the decisions that will make your college your own Harvard.  Or not.  The choice is yours.

Daniel Caton

Special to The Observer

Published: Sunday, August 13, 2000


Page 3D

Welcome to Harvard.

That's the message I will start with on my first day of class this semester. No, I have not been hired by that (other...) prestigious institution--I'm still at Appalachian..

The message to the students is that in the big picture it is not important where they continue their education, but that they do it at all, and do it well. For many students I think it matters little, in that they fail to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge around them, whether they are on the Square in Cambridge or the Glen at UNC-C. But they do not seem to realize this. Others can turn CPCC into their own Harvard, making intellectual leaps by taking advantages of the opportunities they all will have.

If you have a child going on to college this year, cut this column out and tuck it in their luggage. If they are commuting to a community college, tape it to their bedroom mirror. Tell them to read below...

Student: you have been given the opportunity to extend your education. This is not about becoming a doctor or lawyer–such “majors” are actually peripheral to the important task of obtaining a liberal education. You will probably change your major a couple of times anyway.

But you should build a core of knowledge and insight that will help regardless of any specialty. You know a little now, and will learn a bit more in college. And, if you are lucky, you will learn how much more there is to know afterward, and develop the tools to keep learning for a lifetime.

You may be one of the many who are the first generation college student in your family. That does not mean you are better than your parents--it just means they helped you have opportunities they may never have had. Your responsibility is now greater, as you wade to the deeper end of the intellectual gene pool. Don’t be afraid to swim on out--the water’s fine.

For your first year, take some courses that seem interesting, even if you cannot imagine a career in the field. You’ve never experienced education until you’ve study a topic about which you knew nothing. The same goes for exploring a major: I’m sure my parents worried whether I could ever make a living as an astronomer.

Don’t take courses that just repeat what you took in high school--take things you could not take there. Most students take biology because they took it in high school and see it as an easy path (which it actually is not!) For your science requirement try geology, or meteorology (or astronomy!)

When you find an area of interest, ask a favorite professor if you can help with his or her research. We all have projects that need more work and both of us will gain. In the end, if you ask me to write a letter of recommendation, those experiences will give me something to write about--a way to help you enter your career.

Explore the cultural events that your college provides. Sure, your student association will bring in some name band you already know, but what’s the point in going? That stuff is familiar and free on Napster anyway. But, the college will also bring some symphonies, ballets, Big Band and jazz, Cajun and Calypso. Try some different things--you will be pleasantly surprised. Going to college and only attending the popular music events would be like flying to France for a vacation and eating only at McDonald’s.

Many of your colleagues will want to party more than is good for them, trading too much of their studying for binge drinking. I expect you to party--making friends and exploring diversity is part of the college experience. But, I also expect you in class the next day, awake and sober. Don’t let your buddies pull you under. I’ve seen some go under for the third time...

But do remember to have fun. These are some of the best years of your life. After this, it’s work. I’ll always remember when I was struggling to complete my Ph.D. dissertation and whining about how busy I was. My advisor looked at me and said, “it only gets worse”. He was right.

So, dear student, welcome to Harvard,.where only you can make your institution work for you. You will make the decisions that will create a Harvard wherever you are. Or not. The choice is yours. Don’t let us down.

And, don’t let yourself down.

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