JO BETH MERTENS
Sunday, you graduate—at a commencement ceremony. Have you thought about that? Your graduation does not mark an ending—but a beginning. So I thought tonight would be an appropriate time to reflect—to look back at your 4 (or in some cases 5, 6) year career at HWS. And to do that, I want to remind you of each semester you spent here, and then relate what you were feeling and experiencing to Mertens’s Rules For College—there are 8 of them, one for each semester (and I think they translate pretty nicely into Rules for Life.)
Rules for College: (according to Mertens)
Four years ago, Fall 2000. You were scared—full of bravado. Remember orientation and that stupid scavenger hunt in the rain?
And that first day of class. College—big-time. And in most of your classes that first day, you got some sort of intro to college life. If you were in MY class, you heard Rule #1:
I am NOT your mother. I am your teacher. I may be female, but I can do math. Get over it. I do not care that you have a hangover and did not finish your problem set—your mother may be sympathetic, I am not. Never forget—I’m smarter than you, and I know more than you do—I do not care about your uninformed opinions—no one does. I AM interested in intelligent analysis. Until you can do that, don’t bother me regurgitating what your Uncle Howard or Aunt Sue has said at family dinners the last 10 years. And take off those silly ball caps.
So you made it through, and you went home for winter break and spent the whole time looking for a different school to attend.
Spring 2001 (Get me out of this God-forsaken place! I want to transfer!)
Which brings me to
Rule # 2: Stick it out. New things are hard, but happiness and success are the result of hard work—not from taking the easy way out. I may sound like your mother, but I’m still NOT your mother. No one likes the first semester of college. And remember, I’m smarter than you, and I know more than you do. Why are you wearing flip-flops, it’s freezing out! And take off that stupid ball cap!
Fall 2001: False bravery replaced with misguided self-assurance. Then 9/11 happened, there was the dorm fire—we were asked to keep our “normal” schedules—yeah right.
Rule #3: Be flexible— Bad things happen. Yeah, I’m not your mother but this is different. Sometimes you need to cut people a little slack. Can anyone do intelligent analysis right now? OK, OK. I’ll listen to your opinions, this time—you are just as capable as anyone else on this issue. No, I’m not canceling the final.
Spring 2002: Oh my God, they won’t let me register until I declare a major—what am I going to do? This will affect me for the rest of my life. What if I choose the wrong thing? Why didn’t I go to a college with a business school, then I could have majored in marketing. And what are these stupid goals about?
Rule #4: Do not succumb to analysis paralysis. Few decisions are irreversible. Your major matters a lot less than you think— you can always go back and take necessary coursework for med school, or vet school or dental school. Rarely does a door close permanently. Don’t let the fear of making a wrong choice keep you from making ANY choices— After all, no explicit decision is still a decision, and if you do that, you are letting fear determine your life. Remember Rule #3—be flexible.
Hey, what did you think about that op-ed piece in the Times? Oh, I’m not supposed to care about your opinions,…Yeah, well, I’m still not your mother.
Fall 2002- Junior year—better start studying, time to take classes a little more seriously. I want to go to Senegal—if I don’t get my grades up, they won’t accept me into the program. Why didn’t I realize as a first-year that getting into an off-campus program was competitive! What have I been doing the last 2 years?
Rule #5: Always pursue excellence, and not perfection. What’s the difference? A friend of mine, Sherry Conger, defines them this way: (Notice the proper attribution, you’re not going to get me for plagiarism)
Perfection is about being right. You achieve excellence when you are willing to be wrong. Excellence is taking a risk.
Perfection is fearful. Pursuing excellence creates confidence.
Perfection only sees the destination. Excellence is all about the journey.
Spring 2003: Where were you the night of the blackout? And how about that first HWS day? That was fun…too bad they changed the format. What are these goal things about again? What do you mean I have to take a lab science to satisfy goal #3? I have to declare a minor, too? What do you mean one has to be interdisciplinary? Who came up with all these stupid rules?
Now is a good time to remember Rule #6: Keep your sense of humor. Sometimes it helps to have a mantra—my favorite is “Don’t ask why.” A big part of life is about following rules—sometimes it is better not to question them, at other times, revolt is the better option. But choose your battles judiciously. And through it all—keep your sense of humor.
By the way, I saw your presentation last week, so, OK, I may not be smarter than you, but I still know more than you do.
And no, Kevin, for the 20th time, you can not count computer science toward your scientific inquiry goal.
Fall 2003—Ah, senior year. The birth of the leisure club. Only 9 more months and I have to enter the real world. What am I going to do? I’ll never pay off those student loans. The economy is terrible—job growth is almost non-existent. What if I have to move back in with my parents? What if they won’t let me? Worse, what if they want me to? And what can I do anyway? Maybe I’d better check out grad school, after all, school I can do….
This is when Rule # 7 comes in handy—
Rule #7 Don’t forget to breathe, and never pass up an opportunity to use a bathroom.
Spring 2004: The leisure club survives, but the picnic table in Odell’s pond was not your finest moment. And going through many of your minds:
I’m going to kill the next person who asks “So, what are you doing after graduation? Got a job yet? Taken the LSATS? GRES? GMATS?” I thought this last term was going to be easy, who knew Mandala painting would take so much time? And who knew looking for a job and applying to grad school would be so hard?
Before you panic—Rule #8: Remember Rules 1-7, especially Rule #7.
So, you’ve made it through, and the truth is finally evident to everyone, including me. OK, so, I’m not smarter than you and unless you are an econ major, I probably don’t know more than you do either – but I am still not your mother! And as of yesterday, I’m no longer your teacher, either.
But please know this: All of us at HWS have done our best these last 4 years to educate you— teaching so that you can recognize and develop your innate capacities. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, wrote “We are educated by others… and this cultivation, mingling with our innate disposition, is the soil in which our desires, passions, and motives grow.” We have done our best to provide you with the most fertile of soils in which you can grow. The tending of those dreams and passions is now up to you."
I wish you all a most excellent journey.
"Mertens?s Rules for College," Jo Beth Mertens, Dept. of Economics
May 12, 2004