As freshmen arrive for their first semester of college, they are met with countless opportunities to absorb information and advice from faculty, staff, professors, and upperclassmen.
Last week, they had the opportunity to hear from some underclassmen.
Sophomores Emily Skwarek, Dietrich Balsbaugh, Karissa McCarthy, and Nathan Williams took turns speaking for 10 minutes each to a crowd of more than 40 new students.
Each panelist shared with the audience growing experiences they had in their first semester last year, offered tips on how to maintain a healthy balance between academics and social and spiritual well-being, and suggested visiting their professors in office hours.
“Although we all go to Hillsdale to learn, we can’t ignore the experiences,” Swarek said. “This includes forming lasting relationships. Many people have told us, ‘You will make friends with people that will be lifelong friends,’ and I really think that’s true. I’ve definitely made friends that I’ll have forever.”
Skwarek, who works as a student affairs mentor in career services, noted that refining a resumé and preparing for life after school is also something to take advantage of at Hillsdale. She also told the audience that stressing over a major or future career is an unnecessary worry as a freshman.
“You can do anything with your major,” Skwarek said. “The more unique you are and more experiences you have, the more employers will want you.”
Balsbaugh told the group that at a loud and busy campus, it’s important to find quiet time.
“It’s part of cultivating an interior life,” Balsbaugh said. “I find it helpful to develop not only a spiritual life, but also an intellectual one.”
Balsbaugh went on to say that in the classroom it’s a good thing to be vocal but inquisitive.
“Be confident in your learning,” Balsbaugh said. “Ask bold questions, but be aware of yourself so you don’t put yourself on display. Ask as many questions as you can. Questions are not a sign of ignorance. They’re a sign of passion.”
Freshman Hannah Thullen said she was encouraged to hear the positive experiences the panelists have had with their professors at Hillsdale.
“From where I’m from, there seemed to be a distant relationship [between professors and students],” she said. “I liked how they talked about the professors here and how much they seem to care about you.”
McCarthy asked how one can glorify God through academics, She shared her own struggles with trying to do so before she came to the realization that “you don’t need to prove yourself.”
“Achievement is not God’s plan and purpose for us. Achievement is very prideful,” McCarthy said. “The goal of being at Hillsdale is to learn. The best way we can honor God is through learning.”
McCarthy said trusting in God has helped her to embrace the process of learning instead of aiming for results.
“This place teaches you how to love something because it should be loved,” she said. “Don’t let the achievements consume your life. Let the journey and let God consume your life.”
Freshman Julia Powell found the reminder to focus on learning instead of grades to be beneficial.
“I love learning, that’s one reason I’m here,” she said. “But sometimes, you can get so caught up in everything and competing with other people that you forget about that better goal, so having that reminder is always a good thing.”
Williams concluded the panel by talking about the importance of seeking “membership in community.”
An impediment to this ideal, he explained, is defining oneself by the groups of people one associates with.
“You can’t reverse-engineer friendship,” he said. “When friendships form through mutual respect and love, it’s one of the most beautiful things.”
Another pitfall to building friendships Williams mentioned was pride.
“You are yourself. You bring something unique and something special,” he said. “But it’s not for yourself. It’s for others, and to love others, and to invest in them.”
Freshman Jenny Buccola said Williams’ challenge to try new things was a helpful reminder.
“I thought how it was cool for Nathan to say to go outside of your comfort zone,” she said. “I like that piece of advice to do stuff that makes you uncomfortable because you’ll make friends.”
The freshmen in attendance said it was worthwhile to hear from students who were in their position only a year ago.
Gabriel Kramer appreciated another opportunity to hear and learn from people with experience.
“I think it’s really important to learn from people who have experience because that’s the way our entire culture is set up,” he said. “You come here to learn from people who have studied these things their whole lives, and it’s important to get advice from people who were just recently in your position.”