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Monday, July 01, 2013

The C’s of College and Rationalist Thinking

Jaser Alsharhan
University of Denver
NSHSS Student Council/Claes Nobel Academic Scholarship Recipient

Embrace change

This past year has been a maelstrom of c’s: Change, community, confidence. and culture – yes, those are the c’s which have defined my college experience thus far. Before attending college, I was much more an independent person than anything else. I was excited to attend college because I would be able to gain the skills necessary for the rest of my life—skills that would assist me in any of my future endeavors. I have come to the realization that one needs to be prepared for change because “the only constant in life is change.” Moving into a new home, having a roommate, altering my sleeping schedule, going to new classes every ten weeks, working two jobs . . . the list goes on and on. These events are only some of the many changes that have contributed to the paradigmatic shift one experiences while assimilating to a new environment. While it may seem like those words were written in a begrudging tone, I have realized how blessed I am to be where I am. Thousands of people would like to be in the same spot that I am in now. College is a blessing—it is a gift unmatched by many experiences on this earth. Coming back to my c’s: in order to truly relish the “college experience,” one must be willing to embrace change and all the beautiful people, memories, environments, and immersions which can spawn from such a contrast in settings.

Engage in the community
As a very independent person in high school, I was not sure that I could fit into the “living and learning communities” of the University of Denver. Although I have not succumbed to the fraternal environment of college, I have remained very close to the Pioneer Leadership Program, which is a living and learning community devoted to developing sustainable leaders for the future of corporate America and non-profit businesses. The community developed by the Pioneer Leadership Program has allowed me to experience college with an added benefit: a built-in community of people willing to help, support, and perpetuate the meaning of true friendship. Without my friends in the dorms, my college experience would be subpar. It is only with friends that one can survive in college. Admittedly, you are surrounded by people, so it is inevitable that you will make friends. But you build a safety net to know that your “Catcher in the Rye” will be waiting if or when you fall.

Envision confidence
I knew who I was before coming to college—this natural confidence has served me well. But I have needed this trait more than ever lately to know what path is truly “right.” Being confident in one’s actions is the surest way to feel less insecure and more comfortable. When I was applying for a job at the University of Denver with University Technology Services, I knew that I was not the most technologically savvy person on campus. Before getting a job with UTS, I had neither touched a Macbook nor knew how to reconfigure its operating system. Going into the interview room, I could only approach the situation with one of two attitudes: either an attitude of low-self efficacy or one of supreme confidence. I took the latter. I could not think about failure, I could only think about the success. Once I landed the position, I realized that most occasions in life revolve around a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think you are going to fail, you will likely conform to this low standard and ultimately fail; on the other hand, visualizing success and winning the gold medal at the end of the race helps you simultaneously outline the necessary steps to achieve the ultimate goal.

Accept cultural differences
In high school, I never considered my culture (or general surroundings) as something which defines me. Cultural immersion includes much more than just one’s race, family dynamic, or ethnicity—it includes subcultures like high school environments, friend circles, and club/sport environments. It is from the entrenchment of these subcultures which comes an understanding of one’s cultural identity in a world of many diverse, distinct, and immutable personalities. This distinguishing matter comes to fruition in college; the differences among cultures are juxtaposed. The discernment between two different upbringings is no stronger than in the small quarters of college dormitories. The values and morals one stands for versus the values one’s roommate stands for may not always be the same. These differences force one to learn to adjust to other viewpoints, other perspectives, other attitudes concerning life. It’s not about acceptance; it’s about tolerance. It is from the depths of difference, conflict, and contrast that the submerged appreciation and understanding of others becomes normalized.

I have had many impactful experiences while in college. Although the “c’s of college” are a good way to capture much of these experiences, it is by no means representative of all of the life-changing experiences one can have while in college. As a matter of fact, college is different for every person. Not everyone sees college as the maelstrom of c’s—some see at the maelstrom of stress, augmented illnesses, and sleepless nights. In response to this perspective, I would like to leave you all with a quote from the Rationalist frame of thought: “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our heads of how it’s supposed to be.” Come to college with this mindset, and you are more likely to have fewer sleepless nights and more nights of relishing the beauty and opportunities that any institution of higher education has to offer.