Before You Leave This Place

OR: REFLECTIONS AND HAPHAZARD musings
ON MAKING THE MOST OF COLLEGE

I graduate from college tomorrow. 

Didn’t I just get here? Didn’t my time in college just start? Did I learn all that I could? Did I make the most of my time with friends? Why didn’t I get more sleep? Why didn’t I talk to that cute girl who sat next to me in my Creative Writing class that went on to be a best-selling musical artist on iTunes?   

These questions can plague all of us as we prepare to graduate.

I’m excited for what the future will bring; but I am also extremely sad to be leaving this place.
College is a time unlike any other in your life. You’ll learn more than you might care to. You’ll be stretched in more ways than you might want. You’ll meet lifelong friends (and boneheads who you’re glad you’ll never see again). You’ll learn how to make this place your own. And when it finally feels like home, it’ll be time for you to leave and move on.

When you head off to college, everyone always has the same advice:

Get good grades. Don’t party too much. Make friends. Make lots of contacts for the future. Get involved in clubs. Do your best in… zzzzzzzzzz……

Those things are important and all, but I don’t care about them right now. I want to talk about the small moments. The things you may take for granted in college. The moments you could never anticipate. The parts that really add up to define what your “college” experience is.

As I leave Biola University, I have no regrets. Could I have done some things better? Yeah. But I lived, and learned, and loved, the best I could. I tried to appreciate every moment for what it was.

It’s easy to be cynical as a young adult,  getting a taste of heartache and pain, and observing all that’s screwed up in our world. Fight that cynicism. College is your training ground to learn to live joyfully. This is a season full of its fair share of trials, but also numerous blessings as well. It’s a time to learn to live out Psalm 118:24 for yourself, whether you always feel like it or not.: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” All of those painful, lonely, nervous, and scary moments in life help make you who you are – and help you appreciate the fun, adventurous, exciting and joyful moments even more.

Whether you’re in college, soon to be, or have a few days left, I want to share a few things with you. This is just me – a lowly college senior about to leave a place where he’s been fortunate enough to live and learn for a few years – holding a John Cusack radio above his head, hoping you’ll open the window and give a listen.

Enjoy this season for what it is; these are your “good ol’ days.” It’s easy to revel in the big moments; but one of the greatest joys in college come from celebrating the small ones. My deepest hope for you is that you never view this season as “something to get through,” but as a daily blessing to be savored. Learn to appreciate every moment here, in all its different shades, freedoms, and challenges.
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.
Before you leave this place:


Embrace dorm life.
Sure, it may not be ideal. And yeah, you might be paired with a roommate you just don’t mesh with. And yes, that’s all the space you get. But make this place your own, and do your best to form relationships with the people on your floor right from the get-go – they will be your most influential friendships as you start life in this new place. Once you’ve formed bonds and built your “home” here, you’re pretty much set.
You have the rest of your life to live in a house; relish dorm life while you’re in it. There’s nothing quite like living in cramped and close quarters with dozens of your best friends and ‘doing life’ together. Hanging out, studying, playing games, watching movies, doing homework – all while living just a few steps away from each other. Dorming may seem like a hassle, but it’s an experience unlike any you’ll ever get again. Enjoy it.

Get to know the name of everyone on your floor, and learn something they are passionate about.

If anyone ever says, “hey wanna grab lunch?” the answer is always yes.
Meal time is bonding time. Friendships are formed and relationships solidified over Hawaiian pizza and Captain Crunch… And yes, that is a complete meal I have had in the cafeteria before (I won’t say how many times).

Always join in late night donut runs.
Always. This is bonding time like no other. Prepare deep questions you all can wrestle with during said donut-eating time.

Seek out students from different cultures and ask them what they miss most about home. 

Don’t focus on romantic relationships.
*Gasp!* I know, I’m stomping on everyone’s dreams of finding the love of their life in college. But for all the “Ring by Spring” talk, only about 20% of students end up marrying someone they met in college.
If it happens, it happens, and that’s great. But if not, that’s fine too.
You have the rest of your life to fall in love. You don’t have the rest of your life to enjoy and take advantage of forming friendships in college. The chance to live among a large community of friends is temporary. Don’t waste all your energy searching for Mr. or Mrs. Right to realize you wasted all the time you could have spent building friendships in an environment you’ll never have again. If you do find love, that’s fantastic. But if not, don’t sweat it. College is not the last chance you’ll ever have to find a spouse.

Call your mom.
Often. It’s the least you can do; do you even realize what she had to go through in childbirth?

Make a homemade contraption out of a dolly, a scooter and duct tape, and ride it down Caf’ Hill in the middle of the night.
Apologize profusely when Campus Safety asks you what exactly it is you think you’re doing.

Find friends who validate your worth.  

* Find friends who validate your worth for who you really are.
Not for who they want you to be, or who they think you might end up being. 

Make traditions.
With your friends. Your floor. Your class. Whatever. They will end up meaning more to you than you know.

Leave time to waste time.
One of the most significant things this place taught me was the importance of “wasting time.” And by that, I mean spending time on things that you’re calendar or schedule wouldn’t consider “productive.”
When I look back on my days at Biola, my fondest memories will be the random, dumb, simple, silly, and spontaneous times spent with friends. Nonstop laughter with friends by the campus fireplace. Playing card games in the middle of the hallway. Spontaneous theological discussions over breakfast burritos. Grabbing a suit and some speakers to crash intramural games as ‘sports commentators.’ Movie nights in crowded dorm rooms.
We often let our busy schedules get in the way of living life spontaneously. I tend to be extremely task-oriented, always following a busy schedule with a million things I feel like I need to get done. But there’s a reason God gave us the Sabbath in the first place – we need rest.

So I made it a priority during my time here to always be ahead of my work. So that I could have the flexibility and the pleasure of doing random things at random times with random people. Did I know that I was going to spend three hours late one night trying to trap a rogue mouse with twenty other guys on my floor, all running around in our underwear with buckets and quickly-fashioned traps? No. But imagine what I would have missed out on if I’d had a long list of things I needed to get done that night (that little sucker still got away though, even after all that).

Go to the cafeteria in a suit and tie for absolutely no reason.

Institute random dance parties on your floor.

Shake it off when people make fun of your love for Taylor Swift songs.
They just don’t get it, man.  

Don’t play the “new guy” card for too long.
I spent too long feeling like the “new guy” on campus, waiting to getting involved in different aspects of campus life and not wanting to upset the status quo, that I wasted time I could have spent blazing my own trail and making lifelong memories. Claim your stake. This is where you belong, if you believe it. Do your thing.

Grow out your facial hair at least once.
Every man* needs to see what they look like in a beard. Even if only to satisfy their own curiosity.
*Not excluding women here, just figured they’d prefer if this one was optional.

Ask for help.

Keep in touch with your old friends.
Life gets busy. But carve out time to connect and spend time with your friends from high school and beyond. Those are relationships that will only survive if you make sure to take the time to nurture them.
I’ve been blessed with so many meaningful friendships throughout my life, and I know I’m not the best at it but I make sure to take special mind of checking in with each of them every now and then, letting them know I’m thinking about them, and seeing what they’re up to. You never know how or what friendships will mean so much more to you down the road.

Stay away from coffee (if you can). 

Throw yourself into situations where you are forced to practice boldness.
Heck, throw
 yourself into situations where you are forced to practice caution.

Don’t neglect your inner child.
Don’t worry so much about being “grown up.” Be silly. Be whimsical. Get excited about going to Disneyland, or hearing your favorite band on the radio.* Stay up late with friends, laughing over stupid YouTube videos. Play board games. Make a pillow fort in your dorm room just because.
*Is listening to the radio still even a thing for most college students? I feel so old.

Read books that aren’t required for class. 

Get comfortable doing things by yourself.
You don’t always have to be with your friends to have a good time.
Get out of your comfort zone and do some things alone – It’s a nice break from the daily grind and helps you grow in confidence. Grab a meal with a good book. Go see a movie in the middle of the day and have the whole theater to yourself. Go to a museum, or browse a bookstore. Facebook-stalk that girl you saw in the Libr– oh wait, never mind.

Make a Christmas-themed music video with your dorm in the middle of May, just because. 

Find things to appreciate about the food in the Caf.’

Make friends regardless of major, interests, hometown, or background. 
One of the things I’m not looking forward to is leaving school and finding myself in a world where relationships tend to be dictated by job title, social status, or tax bracket. But in school, none of that matters as much.
Make friends from all different walks of life, ethnic backgrounds, hobbies, and future job prospects. Try not to hang around “just” business-minded students, or “just” budding filmmakers. Gather in groups of friends where everyone is studying and hoping to work in different fields. It will add color and unique perspectives to your life.
Who cares that years from now some of you will be working in cubicles from 9 to 5, and others will be crashing on couches waiting for their big break. Even though we may not agree with it, the world we live in years from now will not be the same as the quasi-society we find ourselves in now. Take advantage of this place where all are equals and viewed for their personalities instead of their bank accounts, birthplace, or house size. Here, as it should be, we are basically all equals. We are just Biola students.

Screw fashion. Wear what you want.

Let your teachers know how much you appreciate them.
They are humans too, who may feel insecure in their work or doubt their abilities. Let them know how much you appreciate their passion for what they teach or how they’ve helped bring the subject matter to life for you. A little world of encouragement will go a long way.

Celebrate your friends’ accomplishments.
Revel in each others’ successes.

Choose a specific way to leave your mark.
Pick tangible ways to make your mark on your campus and your fellow students. It doesn’t have to be much.
I decided to invest most of my energy into my floor and “fostering community” (a term I often get teased for) among those I lived with. I decided that one of my main ‘ministries’ was going to be helping make the few dozen men on my floors’ life more fun or better in small ways. To help make our floor, HEAT, not only a fun place to live but a place we’re all proud to call home. I didn’t always succeed, but it’s always worth the effort.
Just make a conscious resolution to be engaged somewhere, committed to the betterment of others.

Watch ‘Toy Story 3’ as you’re about to undergo big transitions in life. 
Trust me. It helps.

Take a long walk around campus before you graduate. 
Make your way through your school and remember the moments that happened in various spots. Take time to reminisce and thank God for all he has done in your life since you first came to this place. Contemplate jumping in the fountain in the middle of campus. It is your last night here, after all. Remember the rumor about the student who did so and got his diploma pulled. Don’t do it. Wish you had.

It’s not “goodbye.”
It’s “til next time.”

Be selfless. Be kind. Be bold. Be open to change. Get out of your comfort zone. Try new things. “Waste time.” Do what you do for the people who enjoy what you do, not the critics. Celebrate the small things. Discover. Explore. Create. Other cliched words. Do it all. Make the most of your time here, appreciate it for what it is, and learn to live joyfully.
You do that, and you should be okay. Oh, and don’t eat too much 2AM Taco Bell. That stuff will go right through you. Happy colleging.


© Matt Tory,  2015

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