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Ten words of wisdom: lessons learned outside the classroom

April 27, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

Instead of waiting until junior year of college to go abroad, I dared to study in France during my junior year of high school. During my stay, my mother imparted me with words of wisdom via email. That “words of wisdom” series soon became the backbone of her parenting style as I reached young adulthood. For my last column before graduating from Bowdoin, I have 10 pieces of wisdom to share with any student who could benefit from them. My time at Bowdoin has been bittersweet, but I’ve dedicated much of it to ensuring that those who come after me do not have to feel the pain or frustrations that I faced on campus. My words of wisdom are the following:

1. Be firm in your beliefs. Don’t constantly qualify your statements in the classroom by saying, “I could be wrong, but… ” Studies have shown that those with marginalized identities (from women, to people of color, to those of a lower class) tend to lose their confidence early in childhood. Let’s bridge that confidence gap by speaking our minds with conviction.

2.  If you finish college, you’ll be able to finish anything. Regardless of the frustrations you might have encountered along the way, college instills the discipline to constantly quench your thirst for knowledge and to finish what you’ve started. I don’t know if that’s worth a gazillion dollars—maybe it can be done for cheaper. Still, college teaches you that you can handle crisis, failure and a near overload of commitments and come out stronger.

3. Don’t let your schooling get in the way of your education. A recent Bowdoin grad shared this gem of wisdom with me. Knowledge acquisition and production happen inside and outside the classroom. Living on campus is like “Life 101,” and naturally, it’s easier than in the Real World™.

4. The Bowdoin Hello should be a mantra in life. Kindness is underrated in society; people think it equates to weakness. Compared to cruelty or apathy, much more effort is necessary to be kind, to give so much of oneself without expecting anything in return and to constantly come across those who are unappreciative. People’s suffering is overwhelming when you are helplessly compassionate. Heal the world with that radical empathy.

5. Intimacy should have the flavor of love and respect. Sexual consent that is given can be withdrawn at any given time. Emotional consent, however, is a personal call that involves considering emotional well-being. A hookup should not mean compromising one’s sense of self-worth.

6. Learn from those who came before you. There’s an old Nigerian proverb that goes something like, “As much as a young person might have a lot of clothes, they will never have as many rags as an adult.” What we millennials have over our elders in technology literacy or “wokeness” is outclassed by their experience and wisdom. A professor, a parent or a Bowdoin grad has been in your shoes before, though at a different time. Their past can inform our present and future.

7. Find friends who genuinely like you for your personality or essence, not your politics. In the millennial world, peers can idolize you as a social justice icon and then disown you as a friend at the drop of a hat if you voice an opinion that they disagree with. These are not friends, and they never liked you. They liked the representation of themselves in your views. No one is programmed to think the same way, but people can disagree without being disagreeable. Your true friends will probably be outside of the “conscious” community.

8. There is no perfect way to be an ally to those who are oppressed. If you make an error in your efforts to help, apologize and move forward. If your efforts address the real sources of oppression and lessen the burden on its victims in the long run, continue to advocate for their benefit. Someday people will see that it makes sense.

9. “If you have character, nothing else matters; if you don’t have character, nothing else matters,” said Senator Angus King when addressing the Class of 2021. I was sitting with my proctees at the Orientation dinner, hoping this idea would sink in for them. In a world where there are leaders who lack morals and ethics, this mantra should be self-explanatory.

10.  These days, to be woke is to be socially aware of oppressive structures and consequently disillusioned with the world. To my fellow people of color: dare to be woke, melanated and happy at the same time.

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