Letter to a Freshman
If you walk to the campus fountain, there’s a bench by the edge where you can sit and think about who you drank with last night. It’s good for that. Some people think it’s what you’re sipping, or how much, but really it’s the faces in the foreground that matter — the people you’ve injected into your life, the people who’ve injected themselves, and the possibilities that wait in turn.
The breeze is just cool enough to stand, and if you turn a little to the right, you can see the snout of the cougar behind you and maybe catch a fifth-year senior posing in their tassels for graduation pictures.
If you sit long enough, you might remember that there’s a chemistry exam to study for. Or a political science paper to write. The theater’s upcoming show to attend. But most likely it’ll be science, with the charts, graphs and formulas that are tacked up every year by the residents off Wheeler Street. Except for you. Because the view’s so nice, and it’s more fun to just think about it. You might get to it, after you’ve emptied out your Netflix queue.
You might get to it the next weekend. You might not get to it at all, opting to scroll through your contacts for a mass text instead. By now, you’ve probably uncovered the secret about contacts: They change. Half the nicknames sitting in your phone will do just that. You’ll call at least one of them from time to time, checking in on your favorite Austinite, Aggie or the guy who decided not to leave town after all. You might call your parents and call your grandmother every other day.
If you haven’t eaten yet, you might be hungry. It’s around this time that you’ll realize, despite all of its merits, UH has only a handful of places to eat. You could hit Taco Cabana, or walk all the way across campus to Chinese Star Restaurant. You could visit the University Center Satellite, but it’s underground, and you’ve just seen that movie with the earthquakes. You have that kind of luck. And you will not have gained the freshman 15. No one gains the freshman 15. Six pounds, possibly and 20 pounds, less likely. But 15? No one.
If your phone hasn’t rung, you’ll check it again because maybe you just didn’t hear it the first time. There might be a specific person you’re checking it for. You met in orientation, or you shared notes in anthropology. Or maybe you just met eyes across the room at the Center For Academic Support and Assessment, silently praying before the chemistry exam. Maybe you asked them to pray for you. These kinds of things actually happen. It’s possible that you’ll respond immediately, but it’s more likely that you won’t.
If it still hasn’t rung, you’ll wait. You’ll check the time on the message they last sent you to compare the intervals. If it’s been more than 20 minutes, you’ll wait 30 minutes more. Less than 10 might warrant five. You know there’s no correlation between the two and that the inverse relationship between sent and received is a myth at best, but there’s no point in seeming desperate. The residence halls taught you that desperation is not a good thing. It’ll be another year on campus before you see that was a lie, too.
If you haven’t enrolled in John Harvey’s course in the Honors College, you’ll almost certainly have taken Richard Murray’s. You’ll have seen pictures of President Renu Khator. She will almost certainly be smiling. If she’s not smiling, then she’s probably speaking. You will have heard stories about her — possibly about her occasional Segway cruises across campus, or the four bedroom apartment in her office, or the notion that she’s en route to making UH even bigger than it already is. But they all pale in comparison to the Segway, and it occurs to you that you’ve been waiting by the bench in hopes of spotting her on it.
Then again, you might just be enjoying the view. You’ve got a few years ahead of you. You’re out the door in December. You’re halfway to a new life in Dallas, New York or graduate school at Rice. But what you’ll take with you is the view of Ezekiel W. Cullen Building, the two Cougar statues, and the sun on the bench at the edge of the fountain.
Opinion columnist Bryan Washington is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]