Thursday, September 04, 2008

University friendships that can last forever

Hump Day
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial Page (pg. D6)
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

This is the first week back to class for yet another year. Throughout the land, university and school students are hitting the books again in what will be another year of homework, tests, essays and projects.

My first day of university was a mind-boggling 26 years ago. I can hardly believe it's been that long, because I remember it like it was yesterday.

I dreaded every minute of the nearly three-hour drive to my new adventure. I wouldn't know a soul there. I'd been to the city a grand total of once before, not exactly often enough to make me very comfortable with my surroundings.

I assumed that everyone there would be in the same boat that I was in, but soon came to realize that many students at my university knew each other from high school. Seeing that I had gone to French schools, my very English, very high-Anglican university in another province wasn't exactly at the top of the list for my high school classmates.

Thankfully, there were others like me whose only friend upon arriving was their own reflection in the mirror, too. It made me feel less like a freak to see others wandering around as lost as I was, wondering who to be friends with and finding their entire support network and comfort zone thrown into disarray.

I had a great bunch of friends in high school and still hang out (or at least keep in touch) with most of them today. There have been marriages, divorces, the deaths of parents and personal illnesses, but we still manage to get together often to catch up and socialize. Had I known that these would be lifelong friends, I would have allowed myself to enjoy that first day (and even my first year) of university a bit more.

My erroneous philosophy at the time was that a person could only have a finite number of great friends, and that these university folks had better not get any ideas. I already had my quota filled, thank you very much.

Of course, that was silly thinking, but when you're 18, in a foreign environment and essentially by yourself, you tend to think crazy thoughts. As I've aged, I've come to realize that there are no limits to the number of great friends that a person can have.

Eventually, I started to relax and grew close to some of my university classmates. Some really good friendships evolved over those first few weeks, as they usually do during initiation into university life.

Of course, there are always a few bumps in the road when thrust into such an alien environment. The "nice" person you started to hang out with turns out to be completely psychotic. And that angelic-looking person who initially seemed like they could work part-time as Jesus's personal Bible editor turns out to be a druggie with an addiction so intense that they could put any Colombian drug lord to shame.

During my first week of university, I found myself drinking rum in some guy's room. As the conversation went on, I quickly discovered that this was far from someone who I'd normally associate with, but how was I to know before? I hate rum. I can barely swallow it without gagging. I can't even smell rum extract used in cooking without my throat closing up. I don't think I ever spoke to him again throughout my four years of university after those few shared drinks and a very bizarre conversation. I can't even remember what we talked about, but I remember thinking, "Get me out of here!"

By the end of the first week, I'd started to figure out who my kindred spirits were. I was a pretty basic person. I would drink beer, sure, but wasn't into drugs at all. It's just not something that's ever appealed to me. I tended to hang out with like-minded people. I naturally gravitated toward the "good-but-not-snobby" people.

I kept in touch with my high school friends through letters and telephone calls. This was before the days of e-mail, Facebook, MSN chat and cheap long distance, so communicating was slow and expensive. I wish I'd had the Internet back then. It would have made things so much easier, not to mention a lot cheaper. In those days, long distance cost a fortune, not the mere pennies that it costs today.

As the years went on, I garnered a group of really good friends. And like my high school friends, I still keep in touch with many of them today.

So here's my advice to those university and community college students who are finding themselves away from home for the first time. Stay in touch with your friends from home, but be confident enough to take advantage of your new surroundings and meet new people. In the few short days since you've arrived at university, many of you have already met your future spouse or best friend, but just don't realize it.

Have lots of fun. "Party hardy," as they say, but remember to always be safe. Don't let anyone talk you into doing anything you don't want to. The people who get the most respect at this stage of the game are those who make the responsible choices and don't run with the crowd.

Be your own person.

Partying may be tempting. But -- trust me -- there will be many, many parties during your university life. Missing one (or two, or three) may feel like the end of the world, but there's always another one around the corner. Don't neglect your studies for which you are paying dearly, financially speaking.

And that person next to you in class? Be nice! You may marry them one day.


Henge Team said...

I remember a wiseman once enthusiastically procliam "20 years from now - you won't remember your studies'll remember your buddies!"

Life long connections truly is the gift of one's time in university.

Brian Cormier said...

Oh wise one, you need to put that up on YouTube. I missed that speech. :)