O'TOOLE: Some advice to my freshman self

Twenty-five years ago, my parents moved me into a room on Sweeney Hall’s third floor at Central Michigan University. I was a 17-year-old freshman, eager and anxious to start my “real” life.”
Aug 5, 2014


Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and do college all over again, knowing what I know now. Granted, there is a whole lot of stuff I used to know that I don’t anymore.

This wish has little to do with regret. Maybe I’m not rich. Maybe I’m not famous. Maybe I didn’t marry a musician or poet or Tom Cruise. Maybe I never wrote a book that Oprah picked for her book club. But I have two amazing daughters. If all my tombstone says is “Mother of Olivia and Crystal,” well, that’s plenty.

Still, I can’t help thinking sometimes about how lonely and sad and scared I was when I began college, and I wish that I could go back in time and give my freshman self some advice. If I could be like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future,” I just might travel back to August 1989 and give myself this advice:

Don’t sign up for 18 credit hours your first semester, write for the campus newspaper, and play in the symphony, too. I know you’re afraid that, if you don’t keep busy, you’ll go insane with homesickness. You won’t. But you will burn out if you overextend yourself. Strive to balance academics, extracurricular activities and leisure time.  

Do not even consider majoring in Journalism. You are not a reporter; you’re a storyteller. This is perfectly respectable. Let no one tell you otherwise. Besides, most reporters will be out of work in the new millennium because of this thing called the Internet.

Take a self-defense class. Take poetry and women’s studies. Take the Virginia Woolf seminar. Take Spanish, not French.

Do not take the 8 a.m. section of Shakespeare.

Do not fear math. You do not suck at math. You are at least average, or a little above average. That is good enough.

Keep your habit of taking solo walks around campus in the evenings. When friends or roommates invite themselves along, politely tell them you need time to yourself. Avoid joining your friends on their nightly 7-11 excursions.

Turn the volume down a few notches on your Walkman. You won’t like wearing hearing aids in your 30s.

Don’t get that layered haircut and perm. Don’t waste so much time curling your hair. It’s always going to go flat on one side, anyway. Embrace your straight hair. Let it be straight. Have fun with color, though.

Love your firm arms, breasts and butt. You will miss them in your 30s.

Call your parents more often. Argue with them less.

Save more of your money. Get better summer jobs.

Don’t take back that ex-boyfriend. You know who I mean.

Date more English majors and fewer guitar players.

When your roommate tries to set you up with that boy, say no. No matter how much she begs, pleads and whines, do not go meet him. Slam your finger in a door and beg her to take you to the emergency room. It will be far less painful for you in the long run.

Stress less, relax more. You’re going to be just fine.

I guess what I’m saying is that I do have one regret: I didn’t remember Shakespeare’s words: “To thine own self be true.” (That was Shakespeare, right? That class is a little fuzzy.)

Or Rick Nelson’s: “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

They’re my mantras now.

— By Kelly O'Toole, Tribune community columnist


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