Dawg Camp letter: “Get the picture.”

I’ve been asked to speak at the University of Georgia’s “Dawg Camp” for new first-year students. It’s a weekend event for entering freshmen who want to get a head-start on making the most of their college experience. I spoke to this group a few years ago, and it was a high energy group. Of course, in my job at UGA, I work closely with entering and current students. I am passionate about challenging students to squeeze the best possible experience out of their college years. In addition to speaking to the students this weekend, the Dawg Camp staff also asked me to submit a letter to the students that will be included in their camp handbook. Here’s my letter to the new students:

Welcome to Dawg Camp!

UGA’s famous former football play-by-play announcer, Larry Munson, began broadcasting each Georgia game with the phrase “Get the picture…” He then proceeded to describe in detail the scene in the stadium, including the color of both teams’ uniforms, the weather, the direction the teams would be going on the field, and even how full the student section was in Sanford Stadium. (By the way, don’t arrive late to football games. It’s not cool to arrive after kickoff. Get there early.) There was magic in the way Munson described a game. And I do think there’s something magical about getting a clear picture of what you want your college career to be.

So, “Get the picture…” Begin with the end in mind. Imagine yourself between the hedges in Sanford Stadium on Saturday, May 17, 2014, at 6 p.m. That is commencement day for the class of 2014. Your class. Picture yourself in your black cap and gown in the stadium on what will likely be a warm spring evening. See your family and friends in the stands, sweating… and cheering for you. Now imagine how you want to feel on that day. What will your emotions be as you complete your UGA education and earn your degree? Go ahead and feel those emotions right now. You want to graduate, sure. But don’t you want to graduate with the feeling that you made the most of your four years here? No regrets. No second-guessing the experience you had as an undergraduate. See yourself with a huge smile on your face on that day, high-fiving the multitude of friends who will surround you, hugging your family. Strutting. (Nothing wrong with a little strut in your step on graduation day. Go ahead… start practicing.) I challenge you to visualize this moment at least once each day while you’re at UGA. There is power in the thoughts you think.

What will it take for that vision to become a reality for you? How can you make your college years amazing? Because you’re at Dawg Camp, you’re at least interested in a running start to your UGA experience. (Or maybe it was your parents’ idea for you to be here. If so, thank your “type A” parents when you get home.) I’ve been fortunate to befriend some of the most outstanding students at UGA in the past eighteen years. The most successful and satisfied students have been those with adventurous spirits, sincere enthusiasm, the courage to pursue what they’re most passionate about, and genuine kindness toward those around them. They have been the students who have been most awake. Too many people sleepwalk their way through college and through life.  While I’m challenging you to envision clearly a moment four years from now, the only moment that ever really matters is right now.  “Make every day your masterpiece,” said John Wooden, the legendary, late UCLA basketball coach. Make an art out of everything you do as a student – even walking across campus or riding the UGA buses or taking notes in your least favorite class can be an incredible adventure if you give your full attention to it.

You’re going to be strongly and repeatedly encouraged at Dawg Camp to “get involved.” I agree with that advice. But there’s no prize for the student that graduates with the longest resume. Find those things to do that have meaning for you, that are rewarding in themselves, not for any external benefit you might receive from them. Take classes that truly interest you. Make an effort to get to know and learn from everyone you encounter – students, faculty, staff, the food services workers, the cleaning crew in your hall, the bus drivers. Trust your instincts. Follow your heart. Spread some love where you can. You’re in for a terrific adventure at UGA. I’m honored to be here for the start of it.

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