I was reading my Twitter account a few days ago and noted a comment from a non-Wofford student that had been re-tweeted (basically copied and sent out to the world) by another non-Wofford student of my acquaintance. The young man bemoaned his low grades and bad experiences, hoped that his chemistry professor had a miserable Christmas, and whined “I wish I could just start this whole freshman year over.”
His statement contrasts sharply to the thoughts expressed by the students in my Humanities 101 class. Each time I teach HUM 101, on the last day we meet I ask my young people a simple question: “What have you learned this semester?” I tell them that I don’t want to hear mathematical formulas or lists of historical figures, but the important information they have gleaned about themselves since the first of September.
I’m always delighted by the diversity of the answers. This class ranged from the cocksure (“I haven’t changed at all!”) to the humbled (“I’ve learned I shouldn’t be so quick to judge people”) to the practical (“I can do my laundry”). A few students were shocked by how much harder college classes were compared to high school: “BIO 150 is kicking my butt” and “all I do is study!” One young man felt he’d learned to stand up for himself and wouldn’t be pushed around anymore; we joked that his parents might be in for a shock when he arrived at home for Christmas with this new attitude! Several of the young women admitted that they’d moved in with fears, of being lonely or feeling out of place, and now they couldn’t imagine why they’d been so tense, since they’d made friends easily and were having a lot of fun. One young woman put it concisely—“Wofford ROCKS!”
What stands out to me is not that every student found life at Wofford to be perfect; almost everyone owned up to some problems. Some freely volunteered that they were struggling with courses and were concerned about grades. Many were questioning whether they had made the best use of their time. One told me, privately, that joining a social organization was a mistake, yet the student felt pressured to continue after investing so much money. Many of my young people were scratching their heads about majors, and some admitted to having had more confidence than talent at the start.
But none of them expressed regret about coming to Wofford. And none of them whined and wished to start over. None of them were hanging their heads in shame, or trying to shift the blame for a bad semester onto roommates, friends, or professors. They took pride in their accomplishments but they also took responsibility for their mistakes.
I’ve been at Wofford since the fall of 1991, and I hold that the hardest semester of college is the first one. I’m not worried about my fifteen members of the Class of 2016. Certainly things could change, the unexpected could happen, and they might not all graduate together. But at this moment I think they are all capable of great things and already understand that the hardest lessons are the most personal, the ones that require enormous self-reflection.
This is more than I can say for a certain unnamed young man at Florida State University, who can only tweet and moan.