Challenges in college far surpass expectations, build character

This is your official welcome to Tech from your Undergraduate Student Body President. In a letter like this, I would typically tell you about the extraordinary legacy you are inheriting, about the quest for knowledge that you are about to begin, and about Tech’s many unique traditions. But after graduation parties and college brochures and FASET speeches, I think you’ve already heard these sorts of things enough. So today I am going to level with you—tell you my honest thoughts about college and about Tech.

You have undoubtedly heard that college will be the best years of your life.  After all, it was in the graduation cards, in the sage words of aunts and uncles, and in the advice of older friends. And heck, if that weren’t enough, Hollywood certainly wouldn’t lead you astray, right? From Animal House to Accepted—or perhaps more fitting, Revenge of the Nerds—it seemed evident that Tech would be a breeze.

For me, I was sure that would be the case. Three years ago, I was still reveling in life without a midnight curfew. As not just a freshman, but also an indulged—though certainly not spoiled—only child, I was particularly enamored with the many experiences that I had never encountered. Even laundry and grocery shopping seemed like exhilarating challenges.

You may have heard about the 1916 Cumberland Game, where Tech achieved the largest margin of victory in college football history, beating Cumberland 222-0. That was pretty much how I envisioned my college experience playing out. Elle: 222, Failure: 0.

But around mid-October after one particularly challenging week, the luster of college began to wear off. All of a sudden, I had a group project with team members who weren’t showing up to meetings. A friend came out to me—something I had never experienced before. I made a 64 on a test, easily the worst grade I had ever gotten. And I started to miss my family and my high school friends and home-cooked meals.

All of sudden, college didn’t seem like the best days of my life.

This will happen to you too. College will not be all sunshine and rainbows. We don’t lie in the quad all day listening to acoustic guitars and blowing smoke rings. A lot of you won’t find your best friends for the next four years in your first couple of weeks; it will take time. And students who exclusively imitate the Animal House lifestyle don’t usually stick around for very long.

Simply put—sometimes college sucks. You will probably get homesick. You will pull all-nighters. You will fail tests, maybe for the first time in your life. Most upperclassmen will confirm that the ‘Sophomore Slump’ is a real phenomenon. You will experience fights and break-ups. The freshmen fifteen may catch up with you. And you will question who you are and why you are here and what you want to do with the rest of your life.  It will not be easy.

So why is everyone telling you just about the good? Because, that’s what they remember.

Ten years down the road, when someone asks you about your time at Tech, you will not recount your struggles. You’ll remember staying up all night with friends, just because you can. You’ll remember your first time taking a dip in the Campanile. You’ll definitely remember Freshman Hill. You’ll remember what it feels like to beat those Georgia Bulldogs down at Bobby Dodd later this year. You will remember turning twenty-one, or perhaps not. And most importantly, you will remember the connections you will make with other people.

But that will be little solace in the tough moments, when your whole world is falling apart. So , rather than complaining, consider relishing the challenge.

Churchill told his countrymen in April of 1933 in the midst of World War II: “We ought to rejoice at the responsibilities with which destiny has honored us.” What an extraordinary concept—to rejoice in bearing a burden. Each of you have been blessed with great intellect and natural talent—your admittance to Tech is a testament to this. Thus far you may not have experienced great failures, but now there are most certainly challenges ahead. See these challenges not as unwanted loads, but as gifts. They will prepare you to be our world’s leaders in research, innovation, business, and policy and they will mold you into a better person than you are today.

And maybe down the road, you’ll also tell your nieces and nephews that college was the best four years of your life—not because of the great memories and not in spite of the bad ones, but because of the person you became because of both.


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