Surviving The University Experience

August March
8 min read
ÔOh No, William and Mary WonÕt DoÕ
(Photography by Eric Williams, Design by Rob M)
Share ::
I came close to not graduating from high school. By the final semester I wasn’t interested in the forms of social indoctrination widely available for consumption and absorption at Eldorado, a public educational institution for older adolescentsnamed after a mythical city of goldsituated in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So, I stopped attending. I’d spend my mornings hiking in the Sandia Mountains, the afternoons at this or that friend’s house playing Atari brand video games, drinking homemade wine, listening to new wave music and smoking jazz cigarettes.

Then the only teacher I respected at school took me aside. It was Mr. Murdoch, the old communist who wore wool suits and sported a flat-top haircut you could land a jet upon. He looked me in the eye
and after telling me I smelled vaguely of burnt ropesaid that although he could tell I hated high school, he could also infer that I would totally dig college. Surely, he used then-current teenage lingo to impress me with his hipness but even if he hadn’t, I had a feeling he was right.

I stuck it out, graduated with some small bit of honor and got ready for college. Due to Murdoch’s optimism and my subsequent interest, I applied at several colleges and universities. Harvard wanted me. So did Carleton College and the University of California at Santa Cruz. And UNM beckoned too, telling me that due to my ACT scores, I wouldn’t have to take freshman English or algebra either.

Being somewhat of a local (my parents were transferred to Burque from the Navajo Nation in 1976, although their roots had been established in the middle-Rio Grande Valley hundreds of years before), I chose UNM. I wanted to stay in Albuquerque, had recently grown interested in the local music scene and honestly felt like the state’s flagship university would provide me with the knowledge and experience I needed to make it for a lifetime in my hometown.

Of course, my first semester was a rough one. Every morning I commuted from the corner of Tramway and Montgomery down to the main campus on Central and Stanford. The ride to the student ghetto from one of our town’s truly tony residential enclaves was a real eye-opener. After moving to Burque from the rez, I grew up believing that the poverty out in the western desert was singular, that my adopted home was an Arcadian wonderland. Proven wrong by the transients of Yale Park and the dilapidated housing surrounding my new school, I trudged through campus with a full backpack, over-full schedule and vague dreams of becoming part of something that was new and relatively unknown to me.

Although I was never overwhelmed, I still felt apart from the university community. By the time the winter rolled around, I resolved to move away from home and fully embrace university life. When the spring semester commenced I used my scholarship money to pay for a dorm room at Coronado Hall, a meal ticket at La Posada Dining Room, a 400-watt Pioneer Stereo system and enough Grateful Dead tapestries to cover the walls of my new digs.

The move meant getting to class would be easier. It also evolved into a situation where I could easily assimilate into the college community; after all, I was on campus 24/7 now. At the cafeteria, I met many people who would become lifelong friends and so mostly forgot about my chums from high school. I developed positive and professional relationships with members of the UNM faculty who introduced me to a way of acquiring and using knowledge that still persists in my life as a writer and artist.

From Jason Knapp, I learned all about critical theory and postmodern art; Richard Berthold made the classical world come alive with his intensely detailed lectures on Greece and Rome. Jane Caputi and Wayne Shrubsall introduced me to the the intricacies of American popular culture while Mary Bess Whidden and Lee Bartlett supplemented my love for literature with an intense questioning of the nature of the written word.

Of course, I could go on and on about how the
University of New Mexico changed me, provided me with the intellectual ammunition and critical thinking skills necessary to conquer the world. But this article really isn’t about me. It’s about you, dear reader, as you embark on your own journey into higher education, here, there or practically anywhere.

In concordance with that, I offer the following advice, neither fatherly nor forlorn, for seekers of their own particular
path to philomath. It’s from someone who certainly dug college, but also came away from the experience with mixed feelings about the process, the people and the purpose of higher education. That is well and good though, because as a successful college student you should leave the place sharpened, with more questions on your mind than the day you packed up your stuff and took the bus headed away from the mountains and toward the river.

First, do not allow yourself to grow overwhelmed, academically or personally. Begin with a modest course load and a part-time job. Plan your schedule so it is effective, taking into account that you should spend at least twice the time you spend in class studying. So if you engage a 12 credit hour schedule, plan to spend at least 24 hours per week in
the library or on the interwebz learning more about your course of studies. That leaves about 10-20 hours per week making feria to support your good time off on weekends and holidays.

Take full advantage of the tutoring and advisement programs available at UNM. Each college, including
University College, offer academic advisement designed to guide students toward success. If you develop trouble understanding and retaining the vast amounts of knowledge to which you will be exposed, develop academic relationships with peers, form study groups; take an active interest in your studies by visiting professors’ office hours to ask questions, glean a deeper understanding or become a known entity within the halls of academia.

See to your physical, emotional, sexual and mental well-being by engaging in the forces of moderation. You’ll never do excellent work on a research paper or engineering project if you lack for sleep or food. As a full-time college student, it’s important to have a sanctuary to go to for rest and meditation. Whether that place is a dorm room, an apartment, a house in said student ghetto or even the basement of your parents’ luxurious home in the Heights, shelter from the storm is important to your continued development as a learned individual.

UNM has a wide variety of
student feeding options available at all times to assuage your hunger. From the full dining room atmosphere at La Posada to the quick lunch and dinner fixes available at the Student Union Building, do not be afraid to keep your belly full to keep your mind focused. As another old-timer once noted to his students, “When hungry, eat! When tired, sleep!”

If you overdo it, if you are questioning your sexuality or gender, if you feel sad or depressed or lonely, tell someone. Besides talking honestly with the friends and faculty you’ll get to know on campus, the University of New Mexico also provides a full range of behavioral and physical health assistance through the
Student Health and Counseling Center. Residential advisors in the dorms can answer many questions about campus life and the survival techniques necessary to surmount the stress, increase performance and happily shoulder the burden that comes with being a committed learner of things.

Also, take it easy on yourself, but know that you are on a serious quest. Just as you shouldn’t judge others, don’t judge yourself. College is traditionally the place where young Americans go to experiment, to find themselves and a path forward into adult life. With that in mind, it’s perfectly okay to take a class in women’s studies, to spend some time watching foreign films, to go to that party where there’ll be absolutely no one from your old school, to hook-up (responsibly and safely, of course) with the person from another nation or culture or way of seeing things.

Finally, be safe. The world has always been a bright place and a dark place all at once. Avoid dangerous situations, be aware of your surroundings, don’t over-indulge in alcohol or use street drugs. Don’t take drinks or drugs offered by strangers and for Crissakes always practice
safe sex.

And that’s about all I know about college. Oh, yeah, one more thing: Have a wonderful time; you’ve been granted access to a rare opportunity that will surely change your life and create someone totally different than that day in high school when you decided to ditch school, go to the mall and smoke dirt-weed while dissing your teachers and everyone who sat complacently at the Jock Wall waiting for the future to arrive.
ÔOh No, William and Mary WonÕt DoÕ

1 2 3 214