The one thing you should bring to college

Are you getting that ‘back to school’ feeling yet? You know, the urge to go out and purchase new pens, notebooks, trapper keepers? For most of us ‘going back to school’ is another day at the office. For the Class of 2019 it’s the beginning of the college experience and they are ready with carloads of clothing, supplies, electronics, bedding and food.

There is one item missing from the checklists, and it’s an essential for the college freshman – a journal.

For six years I taught a freshman seminar at the University of Southern California. My gift to each student was a simple Moleskine classic lined notebook. There was no requirement to fill in the blanks and turn it in at the end of the semester. It was my way of suggesting that recording one’s thoughts and experiences would provide an outlet from the stress of freshman year.

The benefits of a journal extend far beyond the daily scribbles of events. As you write, your communication skills improve as you create a narrative of your days. The practice of collecting your thoughts creates structure and discipline at a time when the transition to life at college offers multiple distractions.

You are capturing memories crafted in words. What makes you unique? Who are you meeting and what are you learning as you engage with your new community?

Social networking sites provide a way to catalog your contacts, photos and portfolio. Everything you post will follow you through life in a parallel virtual universe. How do you capture the feeling of transformation as you grow at college and in your career? Online you are the public relations version of yourself. On paper, your journal is your record-keeping of reality: failure, rejection, obstacles presented and obstacles overcome.

“One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer and which in a general way are naturally believed, surmised, and admitted by you, but which you’ll unconsciously deny when it comes to the point of gaining hope or peace from such an admission. In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”  Franz Kafka ‘Diaries, 1910 – 1923’

You are writing your story in real time. Don’t edit, but do read what you write and be amazed, looking back at what you have accomplished.

Journals are not just for college. They are our personal reference library of life experience.

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