Relish your college days, they’re an expensive gift

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It’s that time of year.

Young people are stuffing suitcases and trunks with what they think they’ll need for college. Most of it will just sit in the boxes and drawers, but it’s there just in case.

When I packed for college, it was all about the dresses. Women students at the University of Alabama were not allowed to wear pants in the 1960s. It was the rule.

“Wait, what?” A young friend of mine asked. “So what did you wear?”

Flowered dresses with Peter Pan collars. Skirts that fell below the knee. Plaid suits for football games. And if you got up too late for that early class, you learned to grab a raincoat, pull it over your nightgown, and race across campus to take notes in your psychology class, looking like a movie spy buttoned up to the neck and wearing sun glasses which covered your sleepy eyes.

In those days, we followed the rules, even when they were silly. We had curfew each night during the week, but we could stay out longer on the weekends.The dorm doors were locked and we didn’t want to come in after hours and get “late minutes,” which added up like parking tickets.

If you got several, the rule was you had to appear before the dorm’s judiciary committee, saying you were sorry you’d stayed at the library too late or that you took that stroll with your boyfriend. You were just walking around the campus and the time slipped right on by.

And did the male students have curfew rules? No, certainly not.

“Wait, what?” my young friend asked again. When they dropped their dates off, boys went for underage beer and pizza and came home whenever they wanted to, just like regular citizens.

Dorms were separated into men’s and women’s (in my opinion, that’s still a good rule) and if a male student helped carry in bookcases or furniture, everyone had to yell, “Man on the hall!”

“Even if he’s your brother?” young friend asked. Yes, even if.

All of those college rules changed over the years, but some “rules” stay the same. There’s the one about making an effort. Somebody back home made an effort so you could live on a leafy green campus, studying French and Accounting and Biology. Do the work. Make them proud.

There’s the rule about taking care of yourself. Don’t have a Coke and a chocolate doughnut for breakfast each day. Eat real food and avoid empty calories. Pretend your mother is staring over your shoulder when you grab those fries at the drive-through or call a candy bar lunch.

There’s the rule about stupid things. Don’t do too many of them. Your friend in the dorm may think the weekend starts on Wednesday, but the party can wait. The weekend starts on Friday, just like it always has.

There’s the rule about finding your passion. Don’t get your degree in a subject that doesn’t sing to you. If you want to be an art historian, not an engineer, find a way to make that work and avoid watching the clock at a job you hate, counting down the years until retirement.

There’s the rule about gratitude. You carry the hopes and dreams of generations who worked to put you here, in college, at a time when costs are so high and the future may be shaky.

When you go home for school breaks, thank the people who paid your tuition and bought your books. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s not.

Relish your college days. They’re an expensive gift. Pass this gift on to your children, the ones you haven’t met yet. If you can, make that your rule.

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