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Words of wisdom aplenty

Three years ago this week, my oldest brother Geoff, a 1997 Dartmouth graduate, called me as I was frantically packing up 18 years of junk that I just could not live without in college, to wish me luck before I set off for my freshman year at Duke. Before we hung up, I asked if he had any words of advice.

"Alex, there's going to be a time over the next four years when a friend's going to bust into your room at 11:30 at night on a weekday and ask you if want to go bowling," he responded. "Say yes." We then said our goodbyes and hung up.

Of course, he was right (I bowled a 114 the first time that happened, thank you very much). And of course, the recommendation that incoming freshmen should not let new opportunities pass them by and that they should experiment and try new things at college, is perhaps the piece of advice most often given to members of the Class of 2007 this week.

But there is another lesson, I think, to be learned from that phone call: seeking advice, especially from those older or more experienced, is a good thing. A very good thing. Indeed, if I hadn't asked, and if my brother hadn't answered, I would have more than likely brushed aside with a laugh the request to come out of my bowling retirement (when bumpers no longer were considered cool in the third grade, my days with the sport came to an end).

Members of the Class of 2007: Ask for advice from people older than you as often as you can. This maxim applies to every part of your Duke experience, and I assure you will work wonders, mostly because old people simply love to help young people. They get a kick out of it, as evidenced by my brother, who three years ago made small talk for 10 minutes before I asked the question he wanted me to ask.

Want to get good grades? Talk to your professors or TAs after class, and ask them questions about that day's lecture or the best way to approach an upcoming paper or exam.

These days, many professors are only holding office hours by appointment because students so rarely actually take up the opportunity when hours are set. Go in and talk to them about last night's reading, the subject they teach (it's their passion after all!), what other courses or professors they recommend, if you should pursue that biology major or just say screw it, and choose literature instead. Ask if you should do research this summer in Kenya or go for an internship in New York--you'll be surprised how willing a professor can be to send off an e-mail to a colleague in the area you're interested in.

Your goal should not be to exploit your professors to pad your GPA or resume. It should be to learn as much as you can from them (after all, you're paying for $40,000 a year worth of advice--more if you play your cards right).

And seeking advice should not be reserved just for those with Ph.D.s.

Ask the employee at the Marketplace what dinner she recommends today. Ask your RA to give you the lowdown on the greek scene. Ask your new sorority sister if parties are more fun in section, the Belmont or at an off-campus house. Ask the secretary in the department your going to major in if they would recommend a really nice adviser. Ask the experienced Cameron Crazy if you should stand TV side or bench side (actually, I'll answer that: TV side).

The point is, ask. They'll love that you're asking; you'll love what they say.

And since you've made it this far, you must be somewhat heeding my words of advice and looking for a bit more. So here's a few things I've learned in my three years at Duke:

  • For average to difficult classes, the more of the assigned reading material you actually read, the better you will do.

  • Find a friend with a car. Now.

  • More than likely, the admissions people picked you because you were passionate about something in high school. Don't let go of that passion. But if you do, find another one before you graduate, and let that, not your parents or your major or your friends, guide your career path.

  • Everclear punch is really good, just not on an empty stomach. And guys, Smirnoff Ice may be a "girly" drink, but it sure as hell tastes better than Busch Light.

  • The number of friends you tent with freshman year will be about a third of the number of friends you go to spring break with senior year.

  • Oh, yeah, you're tenting freshman year. Your call after that.

  • Waking up really early the day a paper is due and writing 12 pages in three hours is possible, but you would actually have the opportunity to proorfead and rewrite that paper if you wrote four pages an hour the day before the paper was due.

  • Frequent Bullocks at least once a month with 12 of your closest friends, tell the waitress "family style," and give her a good tip. Every other day of the month, eat a healthy, balanced diet. (Eating disorders, by the way, are never in style.)

  • Read The Chronicle every day (sorry, shameless plug).

  • When you go home for Thanksgiving and find yourself calling your family, "y'all," don't worry. That's a good thing.

  • Go abroad or to New York or Los Angeles. If not junior year, then definitely during one of your summers. Studying in Paris, France, is a lot more interesting than selling ice cream in Paris, Idaho.

  • There are more good restaurants in the area than just those at Southpoint or in Chapel Hill. Find 'em.

  • Student theater is great, Freewater films are free or cheap and a capella is not, I repeat, not evil.

  • Finally, don't leave the bowling alley without getting back your shoes. The guy behind the counter doesn't like that.

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