An Open Letter to My College-Bound Son

by Sherrill Zucker

An Open Letter to My College-Bound Son

Dear Dave,


There are certain things you should know upon leaving for college. I’ll save most of the “sentimental crap,” as you so eloquently call it, for later. Today is for practical advice. Although my college days were oh, so long ago, there are certain things that never change:


1. Always, ALWAYS get to the dining hall early on Lasagna Night. They lie—they inevitably run out, and then have nothing left but liver and onions.


2. Have high friends in low places and low friends in high places. The PhD who has authority issues often has the most interesting classes. Conversely, the mailroom clerks and custodial staff are the ones who really know how to circumvent the system; they see and hear everything. They determine whether you actually get that care package from home and if the three toilets shared by thirty guys get cleaned. So make friends with them.


3. Mom does not (knowingly) subsidize poker night. Budget accordingly.


4. When you’re uncertain on how to proceed, remember: now that you’re eighteen, you’ll always be tried as an adult.


5. Bartering is cheaper than paying: Trade a ride home for tutoring, trade a few poker chips for a bootleg CD. Caution: never barter out your laundry—you’ll inevitably end up with pink socks and T-shirts that would only fit GI Joe.


6. It’s axiomatic that the guy with the musical taste most diametrically opposed to yours will live right next door and have six-foot speakers with a subwoofer the size of Montana.


7. Everything is cheaper at WalMart than at the campus bookstore.


8. Always have a dining hall tray in your room. They are perfect for: catching water under plants, booby trapping the bathroom stall, propping open a window, sledding in winter, quickly sliding contraband under the bed when parents come to visit, and, on occasion, even holding food.


9. Don’t be embarrassed if I cry when saying good-bye. Most of the other mothers (and not a few fathers) will, too.


10. Remember that there’s always someone smarter than you, dumber than you, more confused than you, less lost than you, more secure, less confident, more sensitive, less reserved, more dysfunctional, etc. Enjoy the benefits of meeting some, and show compassion for the others; tomorrow the roles may be reversed.


11. Know that home is always waiting for you, regardless of how little time you actually spend here.