Message to my 18-yr-old self

Don’t ever allow school to get in the way of your education.

Speaking notes for my address to freshman at KU’s Opening Convocation on August 25th, 2015.

I want to start by commending you all for being here, because I did not even know about this ceremony when I was a freshman in 2004. You’re off to a great start!

I’m here to share a few of my experiences as an undergraduate here and tell you things that my 18-year-old self needed to hear.

First, you should know that you can do anything at KU. There are hundreds of groups with which to get involved. If you don’t find an exact fit, then you can start one of your own! After spending a Spring Break volunteering for people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a friend and I started a campus organization called Students for ALS Activism, or SALSA. We did not foresee how much confusion this would cause and we ended up referring almost all of the interested students to the Ballroom Dance Club.... The point is that you, or your parents, are paying a lot of money to be here; know everyone at KU is here to help you. It’s their job.

I want you to both revere your instructors and recognize that they are real people too. It’s important to be able to hold two opposite ideas in your head at the same time. Get to know your professors. I’ll never forget when my mentor’s family was out of town. I went over for a research meeting and ended up playing Rock Band with him in the basement. I had no idea he could drum!

Be curious. Ask for clarification and raise your hand. Or hold onto that burning question and wait until the end of class. Visit instructors during their office hours and learn from your mistakes. As a freshman, I signed up for a 600-level history course called “The History of Tibet,” because I wanted to know what those “Free Tibet” bumper stickers meant. I earned a D-plus on my first essay. I asked the professor why? He said that it seemed like I hadn’t really done the reading. Sobbing, I admitted that I hadn’t! Rather than complaining and stagnating as a person, use your time in college to stretch yourself. Rise to meet your challenges, rather than changing your goals to conform to your habits.

Learn to forgive yourself, because you will make mistakes. For instance, you may walk into a final exam armed with only a pencil, learn that it is open-note & open-book, earn a 25% and drop yourself a whole letter-grade. It could happen. But life goes on.

If you haven’t already, learn to love reading. A book can change your life. I went from reading a book that rocked my world, to introducing myself to the author at a conference, to corresponding with him by email, to working together in an international group of scientists and educators, to recently publishing an article together. My point is that I hope you find a book that changes your life too. And if the author is still living, go ahead and send them a “thank you” note. They’re real people too.

I hope you quickly learn that college is about more than making the grade. Don’t ever allow school to get in the way of your education.

I encourage you to go and sit next that intriguing character in class. In college, there’s no assigned seating. Your heart is pounding; you’re wondering how to break the ice with that attractive person just 2 feet away. Here’s a good place to start, “Hi, I’m Brandon.” Or, whatever your name is. You can learn to conquer your fears one “hello” at a time.

Be intentional with your friends. Learn to relinquish friendships that don’t bring you closer to your goals; and strengthen those that do. Our peers profoundly influence us. And realize it’s a two-way street; we lead by example everyday with the choices we make. Be mindful of the power you wield just by being you.

Lastly, do your best to cherish your time here. Spend it wisely. You will probably never have more freedom than you do now. Yes, you will be busy, but we all get the same amount of time.

Busy is not an excuse. Our activities reflect values. Try to live congruently.

I wish you all the best of luck. Rock chalk!