I graduated just over two years ago. Here are nine things I wish I had done as an undergrad.
- Fought to get out of the Arts & Letters science requirement (and several other requirements)
Both of my science classes were a total waste of time. I tried to get my PLS Foundations of Natural Science seminar to count as one of my science requirements but failed. In my opinion, it was the most valuable science class I’ve ever taken, and I still use some of the concepts and skills gained in that class. I should have fought harder for that.
- Mastered a (modern) foreign language
I spent several semesters as a Classics major, which was a great decision. Ancient Greek and Latin helped to teach me discipline, the connection between abstract rules and concrete communication and a certain open-mindedness that you can only get from studying languages. But now I do work in immigration law, and I wish I had picked up some Spanish as well.
- Gotten a spiritual director (sooner)
In the middle of my college career, I found an amazing spiritual director who helped me get through some of my hardest times at Notre Dame. He still plays a valuable role in my life as spiritual advisor, mentor and friend. I wish I had sought him out sooner.
- Been more vulnerable
Though most people in college saw me as a reliable friend who could be depended on and who had his stuff together, I also had some issues. I wish I had been more open with my friends about them and asked for their help. Notre Dame is full of amazing people. I wish I had been more vulnerable with them.
- Gotten coffee with the people who argued with me in The Observer
Many students at Notre Dame have a tendency to spend most of their time with people who agree with them. I did this, especially early in my college years. I wish I had reached out more to people who disagreed with me and made more of an effort to understand them. In law school, some of my closest friends are people who disagree with me. I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve learned a lot about myself from them. I contributed to a number of “Viewpoint wars” in college. I wish I had become friends with more people on the other side.
- Taken more art and writing classes
I wish I would have focused more on gaining skills I can use for the rest of my life. I loved my fiction writing class at Notre Dame. The class ultimately led me to host a writing workshop this summer with a few friends, which was both fun and fulfilling. I wish I had also learned how to draw, paint and write good poetry. You can always read history books or take online accounting classes after college. But learning an art is expensive, takes a lot of time and requires the supervision and advice of a trained artist.
- Read Plato and Shakespeare with my friends
During my freshman year, I remember a group of upperclassmen organizing evenings of “Plato with play dough.” We would play with play dough while reading Plato’s dialogues out loud. It was a preposterously pretentious experience, the kind of experience you should have in the country club called the University of Notre Dame. It combined learning, community, culture and childish fun, and I wish I had continued that tradition. You should never read Plato (or Shakespeare, or really any great literature) by yourself. One goal of college should be to become the kind of person who doesn’t need a class to read great literature with a community.
- Spent more time serving (and learning from) the poor and vulnerable
Regular service, the kind of service where you have to work with particular people who need your help and who are in very different situations from you, is a great way to break out of the “Notre Dame bubble.” Working with vulnerable immigrants in law school has changed me a lot. It’s helped me a lot. I wish I had done this sooner.
- Come out
I didn’t come out until after college, so most of my college friends never really saw a part of me that, while only one aspect of who I am, touches on many fundamental parts of my life. We never got to talk through and work through that part of my life together. The only ways they understand that part of my life are through my writings. But there’s so much more.
Don’t waste your time in college. You only do it once.
This column was published in The Observer on September 3, 2015.