Speaking Out: My advice to all the first-years

By  Michael Romen
  • June 5, 2019

I’m something of an expert at first-year. I’ve been a first-year three times, a second-year twice, a third-year once and now I’m going into my last year at Brock University — unless the Lord has other plans for me. (Please Lord, don’t have other plans for me).

So gather around, younglings, and learn from my mistakes. 

First year #1: I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I had the vaguest sense that University of Toronto Mississauga was a good school, that teaching was a respectable career to get into, but I just felt so… dumb. I was an OK student but I wasn’t prepared to admit that I was struggling. I bombed so many courses that I was on academic probation the next year. That year didn’t go much better.

Be intentional is the lesson I learned from that experience. If I was honest with myself, it would have been better for me to have taken the year off to work. Whatever you choose, you don’t have to have your life figured out, especially in first year. I don’t know many people who didn’t end up switching programs at one point. 

My biggest regret was not opening up at UTM. I knew people there, but I just shut down. I never wanted to be a bother, never wanted to admit that I hated being in that General Humanities program. 

I encourage you to find your academic advisor, your faculty offices, your clubs and teams, and introduce yourself. I showed up to Mass on campus at Brock one day and practically invited myself onto the choir. I met some of my closest friends through that ministry. 

On another note, ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, ask for an extension because you’re going through a bad breakup and you’ll probably get a few extra days.

First year #2: After several breakdowns, I thought to myself: “culinary school.” That’s a great idea. I was wrong. 

I remember my first week at George Brown College, I royally screwed up in the kitchen and the chef demolished me. I ended up walking a couple of city blocks, close to midnight, talking with him as I dragged myself to a subway home. I’ll never forget what he told me: that I had to be real with myself, that this was a gruelling industry and I had to be totally sure it’s what I wanted. It wasn’t. 

Chef Joel Roussel taught me what passion looked like and what it demanded. Passion looked like burning hundreds of hours to make your craft look effortless. 

I have no idea if you’ll see this, chef, but you were the first professor who was real with me. Thank you.

First year #3: Brock. It was the first time I was living away from home. I was an idiot. I had stopped taking my antidepressants and it could have ended badly. The turning point was one night in October, when I looked up the chaplaincy. I remember showing up to Mass one day and practically inviting myself onto the music ministry. 

People will see your Brock Catholic t-shirt and stop you to dump all of their frustrations with the Church on you. Those are moments to listen, not speak. There will be people who will mock the faith and the people you love. Those are still moments to listen — before you stand up. 

It’s all right to be wrong. It’s even all right to sound dumb. Dumb questions exist. Ask them anyways. You’re not in a seminar to impress anyone. 

Repeat this powerful verse: “Do you have a student discount?” 

If you hear a voice that says “You’ll wake up early and finish it,” rebuke it — that’s the devil speaking. 

And finally, as you look back on your seven years outside of high school, you’ll realize that even your worst moments make a great story. Don’t be afraid to tell them. 

(Romen, 24, is a fourth-year English and Classics student at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.)

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