Making the most of your four years

By Brenda Zylstra

Welcome U of I students, from around the world and across the country. Fresh from summer jobs, internships, study abroad programs and summer classes, all roads have led back to Chambana for another semester at the home of the Fighting Illini.

As an orientation leader this summer, I cajoled freshmen to take 8:00 a.m.’s when nothing else was left, assured parents of campus safety and enlightened everyone from little sis to Gramps on the beauty of the Quad. I tried to prepare every student I spoke with for U of I, but half of them barely had time to finish registering and the other half just wanted to leave, so (shockingly) my wisdom was not always desired.

If I had the opportunity to offer every freshman a few gems of insight, things that I believe are absolutely true and of invaluable worth, I would offer the following:

Don’t waste your time with people you don’t like. It sounds obvious, but sometimes I look at people’s friends and wonder why. This isn’t high school, and even though the Greek Gods might try and tell you different, there aren’t cool kids so forget about trying to impress. With more than 40,000 students from every walk of life, you should be able to find people who share your interests, people you genuinely like. I know what it’s like to come in with no friends, to be lonely enough that latching onto anybody seems better than nothing, but hold out and be true to yourself. This is your opportunity to flaunt your obsession with Quantz, to meet people who love “CraftCorner: Deathmatch” just as much as you do and to revel with each other at the amazing skills of Rachel Ray. Just check out the groups on Facebook and any weird crazy thing you love, someone else does too. The cops aren’t the only ones who can use it for detective work. Trying to be cool and fit in is so two years ago, so ditch those kids you aren’t even having fun with and find your place.

Get the most out of class. Realize at the beginning of the semester that you’re going to want to skip, figure out how many times you can without it affecting your grade, and ration out your absences. Read the syllabi your professors hand out carefully; you never know when 20 percent of your grade is going to rely on your contributing at least twice each class period. Finally, figure out which professors actually care about their students, and learn all you can from them. While I’ve encountered several professors who care only about padding their resume and finishing their next book, I’ve met as many who will gladly answer every question I have and do their best to help me figure out not just their class but how I want to use what I’m learning now in my future. One class last year led me to the perfect study abroad program, a scholarship and a great internship for this semester, all thanks to the relationship I developed with the professor.

Finally, love your school. You’ve heard this, I know, but this is a back-to-school column, and it’s time to get excited. Did you know we have more Nobel Laureates on staff than Harvard and Yale combined? Did you know our library system is the 5th largest in the entire nation? Did you know U of I was one of the first five schools to have Facebook? Okay so the last one isn’t actually impressive, but it’s kind of cool. My point is the University has incredible opportunities to offer each one of us, and as the new semester begins, before you get bogged down by classes and work and obligations, find something you love and commit some time to it.

College ends, so figure out what you want to take with you when you leave now, and succeed brilliantly.