Words of Wisdom for This Year's College Freshmen


Freshman year of college is one of the most momentous and exciting periods in a person's life. For many freshmen, it is a time of new friends, new responsibilities, and new experiences, but also confusion and increased stress. For this piece, I contacted several leaders from academia, business, criminal justice, international relations, law, journalism, politics, and other fields, and I asked them one question: What is your advice for this year's college freshmen?

Class of 2020, here are the superlative words of wisdom they had to share:

"Focus! Connect! Balance! Focus on setting a foundation that will propel you to success. You do that by being organized and purposeful in your reason, planning, and passion to pursue higher education! Connect and stay connected to your family, friends, your faith, and all that is positive in your life; jettison the people, places, or things that are not! Balance it all with an attention to your health, your nutrition, your sleep, and yes have fun from time to time, but you did not come there to party you came there to excel, and excel you will if you believe in yourself and stay focused, connected, and balanced! Much love to all and good luck!" --Darryl Adams, superintendent, Coachella Valley Unified School District

"As early as possible, take at least one class which piques your interest resonating intellectually or even emotionally with you. As a freshman I was encouraged to get tough classes out of the way as quickly as possible, which actually delayed finalizing my major. Immediately diving hard into the books while acclimating to a first taste of adult independence can also serve as an obstacle to achieve a more balanced college life." --Kathleen Fallon Boyle, CEO, Verify, Inc.

"From a practical standpoint, choose a course of study that will lead to an employable career. You are making an expensive investment in yourself and your future. Make it count and acquire skill sets that employers value." --Kathleen Buehler, president and executive director, Blind Children's Learning Center

"I expect that the next four years will transform your lives. But here is the catch: You have to own your journey. This is your time to determine who you are and what you are made of, not anyone else's. Only you are responsible and accountable for the outcomes of your experiences. So go out and search, get out of your comfort zone and embrace what is both in front of and available to you, even if you do not completely understand it. This is why we call it a personal journey. Class of 2020, I hope integrity and humility are virtues that will always travel with you on your journey." --Akin Ceylan, chief operating officer of home entertainment and global content delivery, Lionsgate

"College can be expensive. So, approach financing this important stage in your education with eyes wide open. Check out the transparency Indiana provides undergraduates. State law there requires students be sent a letter each year with details on the loans they owe, including the interest they pay, the estimated monthly payment, the length of the loan, and the interest rate. Students are then in a position year by year to decide whether to take on more debt as they continue their education. This increased financial literacy can, and does, result in much smarter borrowing." --John Chiang, California state treasurer

"School is fair. Life is not. Get over it. Some days you'll get credit you don't deserve; other days you'll be blamed for things you were not even aware of. Handle both with humility and perseverance." --Gray Davis, former governor of California

"There is no straight path to your future destination. Be willing to take strange classes, embrace your curiosities, and challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone. There is no one major or internship that will determine your future, rather your entire college experience will provide the foundation for you to grow from. There is always time after college to learn a skill or an industry, but there is never another better opportunity for self-discovery." --Kevin Demoff, executive vice president of football operations and chief operating officer, Los Angeles Rams

"Borrowing from Mark Twain, 'Four years from now when you graduate, you will be more sorry about the things you didn't do than by the things you did do. So cast off your bow lines and explore, dream, and discover.'" --James Doti, president emeritus and Donald Bren Distinguished Chair of Business and Economics, Chapman University

"I feel strongly about the importance of young people getting deeply and actively involved in public service. Your time as an undergraduate is a great time to become engaged in politics." --Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts

"My advice for incoming freshmen in college is that you should understand that you are blessed: being who you are, where you are, and when you are. That means that you should be able to accomplish anything that you wish, within reason. But it takes diligence, sacrifice--and pluck. Figure out what that something is, and then figure out a way to support yourself in that effort. And if you do that, you will never really work a day in your life--because virtually every day will be a pleasure." --Jim Gray, 2012 Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. vice president

"The values your parents instilled in you have gotten you this far. Those same values will get you were you want to go. Raise your bar, set goals, and be willing to have the work ethic that will help you reach your full potential." --John "Rocky" Hewitt, retired Orange County (Calif.) assistant sheriff

"My advice for this year's college freshmen is to enjoy the incredible ride you are on despite all of the hard work and stress. Challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone as much as possible in order to find your true passions. A few of my favorite quotes in this regard include: 'You miss 100% of the shots you don't take,' (Wayne Gretzky), and 'Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm' (Winston Churchill)." --Sarah Kruer Jager, partner, investment and development, Monarch Group

"You'll hear from your academic advisors and others a consistent refrain to 'be yourself.' It sounds almost self-fulfilling (Oscar Wilde said, 'be yourself, everyone else is already taken'). Be patient in finding out what this simple bit of advice means to you. It will not happen in a semester or two; in fact, it is a lifelong project to define yourself as you and the world change." --James Keith, former deputy assistant secretary of state for China and former U.S. ambassador to Malaysia

"Don't let fear or doubt keep you from reaching your destiny. If you're passionate about being that engineer, physician, musician, etc., you've got to prophesize victory and achieve it." --Nikan Khatibi, pain and addiction medicine physician; trustee, California Health Professions Education Foundation

"As a freshman college student entering a new journey in your adult life, this is your opportunity to start over in life and hit that reset button! Get out there and take different types of classes and challenge yourself to new opportunities that involve you moving away from your comfort zone. Check out the student center to learn about all the various types of programs available to help students thrive in college--you just never know what unique offerings your school has for you! Don't forget the most important piece of advice: take care of your body and health so you can thrive in your educational pursuits." --Parmis Khatibi, chairperson, World Affairs Council of Orange County (Calif.)

"College is not a vocational school. It's your chance to learn things that can last you a lifetime. I majored in political science and joined the Foreign Service, and the world changed so many times since I graduated--from the Cold War to detente, then the revival of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union, and then the post-9/11 world. In many ways it was the classes I took in history and anthropology and even Russian literature that helped me to deal with and understand the sweeping changes I saw in my life." --John Malott, president and CEO, Japan America Society of Washington D.C., former U.S. ambassador to Malaysia

"At the beginning of every year I always tell students to remember the Three Ps: Prepare, Pace, and Protect. Prepare like you never have before--college is not high school, and your brain needs to be turned on to its maximum setting in order to succeed. Maybe you used to get away with doing things at the last minute or sliding by on homework or tests. Not anymore. But: pace yourself--learn your limits, keep a daily planner (electronically or even on paper!) to help you manage and prioritize. You can't do everything, and you will need to set a schedule and stick to it. Finally, Protect: take care of yourself and those around you. Eat well, get plenty of sleep, don't overindulge in any, ahem, substances, and watch out for what stress and too many late nights can do to your mental health. If you care for yourself, you'll be in a better position to care for others when you have a friend in need." --Bill Maurer, dean, UC Irvine School of Social Sciences

"Michelangelo's advice is that 'The biggest risk in life is not that you aim too high and miss it, it's that you aim too low and reach it.' Follow Michelangelo's advice." --Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California

My advice to this year's college freshmen is the same advice I give to anyone. I learned this from my beloved paternal grandfather who lived until he was 103 years old. When I asked him to what he attributed his healthy longevity, he said, 'I balance three things in my daily life: my health, my mind, and my family--I exercise and eat healthy, I read and learn every day, and I love and respect my family.' Based on many long and engaging conversations with my grandfather, I learned and wish to share the following advice: Balance each day with your body, mind, and family--by living a healthy lifestyle, learning every day, and loving your family. Find your passion, share compassion, and be grateful every day. Always be curious, never stop learning, and at the end of each day ask yourself what you learned today that you didn't know before. --Nanci Nishimura, San Francisco Bay Area-based attorney

"College life, like all of life, is about choices. So choose to surround yourself with good people. Choose to embrace the opportunities to learn and explore. Choose to invest yourself in the life of your campus. Let yourself care deeply about ideas and people." --Kim Braun Padulo, assistant professor and associate director of leadership studies program, Chapman University

"Look at this as a new beginning, a time to broaden yourself. Discover your passion. Break out of the mold, your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to try something you have never done. Get involved with a club, activity, or service project. Take advantage of this awesome opportunity to discover who you will be!" --Charlene Palmer, principal, The Palmer Group Human Resource Solutions

"The first year is hard and a shock to the system but it gets easier. Take advantage of every facet of life on campus. Try everything and open yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. Be nice to the kid on your hall who doesn't seem to have any friends. A little gesture goes a long way." --Catherine Pearlman, America's preeminent family coach

"Do not, under any possible circumstance, pursue a career that will result in you slogging through five days in order to enjoy two." --Jeff Pearlman, author of four New York Times bestselling books

"In light of the fact that you as freshmen will mature on multiple levels in college, in addition to absorbing the academic knowledge in your classes, actively seek out every moment to enhance your experiences from the lessons of extra-curricular, co-curricular, civic engagement, and informal campus activities to develop yourselves cognitively, socially, and professionally." --Michael Perez, professor of sociology, California State University, Fullerton

"Tomorrow's great leaders will be interdisciplinary actors, combining an understanding of things technical and scientific with skills we identify with the humanities. Create interesting mash ups by combining computer science and political science, data science and behavioral psychology, biology and economics, or any of a hundred other interesting combinations." --Alec Ross, former senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and author of the New York Times bestselling The Industries of the Future (2016)

"Savor every moment, these days will be gone before you know it--explore every possibility that piques your curiosity--and give a damn!" --Anne Serling, author of As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (2013)

"Don't forget to occasionally stop and smell the roses. As a freshman, you will be swept up in an academic and college life maelstrom. But there is also a big, beautiful world out there that can help you keep things in perspective and balance." --Rick Simpson, California's leading education policy expert

"This is going to be one of the most exciting and memorable years of your life. My advice is to experience the university at its fullest: don't just go to your classes, but instead engage in your classes. Ask questions, pipe in during the discussion, meet with your teachers and fellow students after class. Your brain is an incredible machine, the most marvelous machine nature has ever created. You must take advantage of it and push it to the limit. At the same time, you need to protect it. Don't do stupid stuff that you will regret when you grow up. My mom used to remind me not to do anything that I would not want her to know I was doing. I pretty much followed the advice, and it paid off. Do the same. Good luck!" --Daniele Struppa, president, Chapman University

"Take a big risk before you're 30." --L. Jon Wertheim, executive editor, Sports Illustrated

Michael A. (Mike) Moodian is a former chairman of the World Affairs Council of Orange County (Calif.).