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"Five Semi-Outrageous But Entirely Serious Tips for a Successful College Career"

Adapted from Smith College welcoming address to new students, given by Susan Van Dyne, professor of women's studies, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, September 6. Smith, the country's largest women's college, welcomed 673 first-year students in the class of 2003.

1. Stay up all night, alone. "Many of my best insights as an undergraduate came at 5 a.m., watching the sunrise with a diet Coke and a peanut butter Cheese Nab. I'm not recommending procrastination but moments of solitude, alone with yourself, when the distractions of multi-tasking and over-stimulation can be replaced by long hours of singular focus, when you allow yourself to follow a thought as far as you can, when you might discover yourself writing a paper you really learn something from."

2. Take a daily nap at 3 p.m. "If you follow first piece of advice, you'll certainly need the second, perhaps first discovered in 1882 by a non-traditional aged scholarship student at Smith, who worked long hours in the kitchen to pay her way at the same time she wrote an honors thesis. In a letter to a friend she wrote, "I have discovered a most excellent sedative ­ a nap of half an hour everyday about 3 pm. I never slept so soundly in all my school and college life."

3. Don't expect to learn everything you need to know in class. "Expect an important part of your education to occur outside of class and make time for it; you can never predict when or where your calling will come. Smith alumna Hyla Watters who later became a medical missionary in China, wrote home in 1915, 'Jane Addams spoke on Sunday on behalf of peace. It was an unusually good talk, and impressed the girls a lot. She is working up a Women's Peace Party as a protest against war.' Equally famous thinkers and activists will come to college campuses across the country this year ­ be there."

4. Keep a list of things you once were absolutely sure of but now have changed your mind about. "During my 25 years of professing that list has grown embarrassingly long, yet I refer to it often because it keeps me humble, and open to new ideas, especially to those moments when what students have said in class or in papers is what made me change my mind. As Adrienne Rich said, reviewing a lifetime of reading in 1998: 'Pay close attention when something really irritates you.' The passion of your denial may alert you to something new you really need to know to keep moving."

5 . Don't learn only from your mistakes. "You'll never have trouble remembering your failures, but what can you learn from your successes? Write down what you did when writing or speaking went well ­ so you can prepare for and predict success next time rather than leave it to chance."

September 3, 1999


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