What I wish I had known about integrity in college
On my way to first-year move-in day at the University of Virginia, I sat in the car, pondering my name. I imagined my high school teachers, reading their rosters on the first day of class, saying, “Say ‘here’ when I call your name, and speak now if you would prefer to be called by something other than what I have listed here.”
Before this moment, how could I have declared a wish to be called by a new name? Most of my peers would have had classes with me before. They would all know that I went by Emily. They would also know that sometimes friends would shorten it to Em. That’s what my family called me teasingly, and I used to have a bit of distaste for that nickname. But who here would know any of that? Could I actually choose a new name? I liked Emmy—it seemed more whimsical to me— but I had never gotten anyone to habitually call me that before. Or maybe Margaret, my middle name, would be a good one. It was less common and more mature-sounding, after all. Or, dare I say, could I have invented a brand new nickname for myself on this car ride to my first day of college? No one would object… the roster was fresh. I could reinvent myself here, in this moment, before anyone got to know the old Emily. My name, my ways, my manner of speaking… all were up for reinterpretation if I so chose.
Have you considered it? Can you really, on your first day of college, become anyone you want to be with such an unprecedented blank slate? If you used this transition to reshape your identity, who would you become?
With some superficial things, like your nickname, you might just get away with it (I stuck with Emily, in any case). But I’ll argue that in many ways, even if you tried, you wouldn’t totally escape yourself, and you’ll be thankful for it. As you pack up for college, you will bring with you a set of values that every experience until now has instilled in you. These values will evolve, grow, and broaden as you meet challenges in college, but they will remain your foundation. College is formative, a time to find yourself and what you stand for. A time to determine how you will devote your energies for the rest of your life. There’s a lot of change and a lot of possibility. So, to be successful in in this formative time, you’ll need integrity.
Integrity is your ability to hold fast to your values when they are challenged. It requires that you have a strong foundation upon which to stand as you defend your personal character, your belief in justice, your wellness, your sense of professionalism, and your scholarship. As you learn, grow, make mistakes, and succeed your way through college, the conscious effort to act with integrity will be a stalwart guide… as long as you appreciate the values that you bring with you over the excitement of your new-found blank slate. If you do, I’ll bet that upon graduation, you’ll find that you’ve become a greater, more admirable and accomplished person than you could have possibly dreamed up on your first day.
What does acting with integrity look like? How do you stay true to yourself in the midst of the transition into college? It won’t be the same for everyone, but here I’ll offer up to you some of the things I wish I had known on my first day about getting successfully through college with integrity.