FIRST-PERSON: An open letter to college freshmen

by Keith Shorter, posted Friday, August 17, 2018 (one year ago)

EASLEY, S.C. (BP) -- Dear College Freshman,

Your life is literally about to change. As you go off to college you are about to take one of the biggest steps of your life so far.

Do you remember when you learned to ride a bicycle? You likely had a parent running beside you holding on and encouraging you as you wobbled your way down the street. Then there came the time when your parent nervously turned loose and let you go on your own. They were so excited for you and so nervous all at the same time!

That is where your parents are right now as you head off to college.

For 18 years or so, they have been there beside you, helping you and holding on to you. Now it's time for them to turn loose, but it is not an easy thing to do. I know. I've had to do it three times.

As you get ready to leave for college there are two things that I want to encourage you to take with you.

1. Don't forget your toothbrush

Brushing your teeth is one of those "life lessons" you learn when you are young. Your parents taught you how to brush your teeth, and now you have to follow through with what you have learned. That's true with most of the things they have taught you in the last 18 years.

As a college freshman, you will likely have more freedom than you have ever known. With that new freedom comes the temptation to see how close you can get to the edge without going too far. You will have many opportunities to test what you believe and to decide for yourself how you are going to live your life. There's a good chance that your roommate, your boyfriend or girlfriend, or the people you run around with will try to push you to try things that you know are wrong. As you wrestle with those decisions, don't forget your toothbrush! Don't forget what you have learned from your parents, or others, about how to live a life that honors God.

Proverbs 1:8 gives us this counsel: "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction, and don't reject your mother's teaching." As you start making your own decisions in life, filter them through the things you have been taught. It may save you some heartache in the future.

2. Be sure to take a penny with you

We've all done some pretty dumb things in our lives -- things that we regret and sometimes can't explain. That's why you need to take a penny with you. Your life is like a penny. You can spend it any way you want, but you can only spend it once. Too many students go off to college to change the world, but the world ends up changing them.

I used to teach a freshman course at a nearby Christian university, and the one thing that I tried to teach my students was this: "You are going to make choices over the next four years that will determine the kind of person you become. So choose wisely."

There is a verse in the Bible, in Ephesians 5:15, that could keep you from making decisions that you will regret for a lifetime: "Pay careful attention, then, to how you live -- not as unwise people but as wise."

You only get one freshman year, so pay careful attention to how you live it. Take a shiny 2018 penny with you to college. Put it somewhere where you will see it from time to time and remember these words: You can spend your life any way that you want, but you can only spend it once.

That great theologian, Dr. Seuss, said it like this: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You are on your own, and you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go."

These are some of the best days of your life. Enjoy the journey, but choose wisely!

Keith Shorter is pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, S.C., and immediate past president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Download Story