Appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard on August 31, 2009
There’s not even a hint of chill in the air, but other signs are clear: it’s fall semester at Florida universities. Students unloading plump, white pillows and boxes of photos to make their dorm room a little bit more like home. Others sitting in small groups on the steps of academic buildings, watching the parade of cars. And incoming freshmen, looking both excited and uncertain, walking around campus with their parents, who, themselves, look just a little apprehensive.
I know those feelings. Forty years ago, I was a freshman at Syracuse University, struggling with my shiny new American Tourister luggage, my long hair swinging in the cool, upstate New York autumn, scared to death of being on my own for the first time. An entire lifetime lay before me, as it does for these new students; this first day of college was just the first chapter in my adult story and I had no idea how it would play out.
Now, past middle age, and long gone from Syracuse, my own story has largely unfolded. As I walk around a Florida campus watching students, I know that they are in their moment, in their experience and can’t possibly know the significance it will one day hold.
There’s so much I’d like to tell them, as they stand tentatively on the cusp of adulthood.I’d like them to know that life is a ride that can be an E-ticket or safe and secure. That it’s up to them which it will be, but that there are times to take risks and times to be secure. The trick is to know when and how to choose.
I’d like them to know that life passes in the blink of an eye. That one day they’re nervous freshmen on the first day of college and the next they’re retired with children, grandchildren and a past. What happens in the middle can provide wonderful memories or too many regrets. Always act to avoid the regrets, I’d like to tell them.
I’d like them to always take a chance, while they are young enough and resilient enough to deal with the consequences. That the truth is that no matter what path they take, it’ll be all right, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the front end. Life is amazingly flexible and few mistakes are fatal, even if it’s not what their parents tell them.
I’d like them to think about Helen Keller, who once said “life is either a daring adventure or nothing” and be inspired to take the E-ticket ride. To find all the reasons why they should do something, rather than all the reasons why they should not. To make a difference in people’s lives. To live a life of no regrets.
I smile as I get into my car. It’s fall semester in Tampa and in Syracuse. The cycle of life is unfolding for students today, as it did for me. As it does for us all. And in that, I feel no small degree of trust.
Carol Cassara attended Syracuse University. She’s taught writing, business and mass media at colleges in Florida and California.