Altering Expectations

Five summers ago, just a few months removed from my high school graduation, I set out on one of the most intimidating journeys of my life. I left the only place I had ever called home to move to a state I had visited just once on my campus tour, to a college where I knew no one – save for the roommates with whom I exchanged e-mails and Facebook messages.

Despite my trepidations, I felt confident that I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I was convinced that my college experience wouldn’t waver much from the plan I had for the next four years, after which I would move on to a yet-to-be-determined urban locale with the job of my dreams.

Like many first-year students, I was wrong.

For one, my undergraduate experience lasted a few months longer than a neat-and-tidy eight semesters in four years, which believe me, is not as uncommon as you might think. And I still live in little old Bethlehem.

I thought that I was destined to be a Civil Engineer, and then a Mechanical Engineer, until I ended up with a degree in Applied Science. Today, I’m working as a Communications Associate with Lehigh’s Communications and Public Affairs office. This fall, I’m working toward a Master’s degree – in American Studies.

I knew nothing about fraternities and what they did, and did not intend to join one. But I became a member, and then a chapter president. I count the men in my chapter as lifetime friends and brothers.

I became a Gryphon as a sophomore for the free housing and half-priced meal plan (PS: You should get a block plan, the 225-meal plan to be specific. Trust me.) But I ended up serving as a Head Gryphon during my junior and senior years, and the experience taught me more than I ever anticipated.

College, like life, can be pretty unpredictable. And like life, college has a way of looking at your plans for success and laughing at them. There are simple things you can do that will make a huge difference, like actually attending your classes no matter if they are optional, too early, or a little boring. But you can’t expect or anticipate everything. You’re destined to make a few mistakes.

You can, however, expect college, especially one like Lehigh, to change you. It won’t happen overnight, but before you know it, four years will have gone by and you will most certainly be a new – and better – version of yourself. You’ll look down at your student ID card and hardly recognize the face staring back at you.

Step outside of yourself. Get involved in things that you care about. But don’t overdo it. My sophomore year, I took 35 credits while being involved in at least 4 student organizations. I wouldn’t recommend it.

If you need help, ask for it. Help others when you’re able. As a Gryphon, I helped students with issues ranging from trivial to serious, and they’ve never forgotten. When I run into my residents, the last group of which will graduate this spring, they always thank me for being there for them.

College is about learning, making mistakes, and growing. Be better for it. And don’t take it for granted.

Karl Brisseaux ’11 is a Communications Associate at Lehigh. He graduated with a B.S. in Applied Science, and worked with the Office of Residence Life as a Gryphon in Centennial I (McConn), Centennial II (Beardslee), and Warren Square from 2008-2011.

Want to hear some more advice about how to succeed personally and professionally at Lehigh? Check out what our panelists have to say…


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