Fifth year. If you’d told me in September 2006 I would be here in the fall of 2010, and that I would be telling you what I learned too late to help you avoid similar problems, well, I probably wouldn’t have said anything. I kept quiet most of my first year. University intimidated me, I guess.

Really, though, I didn’t say much because I was planning on leaving. Raised in Brantford, I wanted to transfer to the Waterloo campus after my first year. Truth be told, I never actually wanted to attend this campus. It was the ‘rents idea.) But, clearly, I’ve stayed. I have survived four years on this campus, and I believe you can, too. So here, my first-year friends, are the lessons I know now that I wish I knew then.

First, you matter. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but Laurier Brantford is comparatively small (but much larger than it used to be). I’ve complained about having to walk 10 minutes to Grand River Hall from my house, only to discover that on some campuses people walk half an hour from their residence to lectures. At some schools, some people even drive vehicles from one end to another and park in large lots, all with different names. Strange concepts, I know. This small campus will afford you not only more chances to sleep in as closely to that 8:30 morning class as possible, but also the opportunity to be known as an individual. Yes, you have a student number. Yes, universities operate on budgets with bureaucracy and bills. But you really can be more than just a number here. Professors will actually remember your name if you show effort in their classes. And I’ve been told that if you visit them during their office hours, they’re actually quite helpful.

And because you matter, act like it. The real world does not begin when you graduate. This is the real world. Those stories you may have heard about partying all the time and acing classes, or living off Kraft Dinner without washing your plates and not getting sick, are really, just fiction. Be responsible. Eat well. Clean up after yourself. University isn’t a little bubble secluded from the rest of society. World events, political decisions, local construction – you may not always realize it (although guaranteed you’ll notice the latter), do influence your university experience. Take note. Be observant. Ask questions and, when you think you have answers and the time is appropriate, speak. The choices you make have real consequences, in the future, and now.

Finally, remember this: you matter but university, like life, isn’t all about you. Although they and you may not always look or smell like it, you are attending class with other human beings, who, like you, matter. So familiarize yourself with the most important part of your campus: the people, and not the bodies, who fill it. Strike up conversations. After all, at the beginning especially, you’re all strangers. Be a friendly one. Education is important because learning is important, and some of the best learning happens through engaging in relationships with people. So do it, intentionally and well. Seek out those similar to you, and, perhaps more importantly, make friends with people who are totally different from you. Invite them over for dinner, even. The world is both bigger and smaller than you realize, and university will ask you to engage with it in new and different ways. Do that, but don’t do it alone. And maybe, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to turn your music down so your roommates can sleep, or let someone ahead of you in line.

And speaking of lines, you can save a lot of money by learning what textbooks you actually need before buying them. (But yes, actually doing the reading is encouraged. Look for summaries at the end of the chapters. Also helpful: attending class awake.) And after you and the friend you met in line travel to the bookstore and Williams and back to your room, make sure you call the people who contributed the most to your being here. Because, yes, you matter, but you sure didn’t get here by yourself. And hopefully, when your final year comes, you’ll be leaving as part of a group, not just as an individual.