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A college president’s encouragement to new college students: Start well, stay strong and be healthy

John Jackson
Courtesy of William Jessup University

When life feels chaotic, how do we maintain our equilibrium and navigate toward a healthy future?

As the president of William Jessup University, I think about that question often, particularly as it pertains to our traditional (ages 18 to 25) students. When I meet young, first-year women and men, I envision them at commencement, walking across the stage to complete their college journey.

To those of you who will begin college for the first time this fall, I would like to offer you this encouragement: start well, stay strong and be healthy.

Start well

What does it mean to start well? Examine your personal convictions and maintain a strong sense of hope for the future.

While it is important to have the “long view” of college education, I find it is often helpful, especially in turbulent times, to consider, “What do I know for sure, right now?” Clarifying your convictions will allow you to establish a strong foundation for having hope for the future. Talk yourself through or write out what you are certain about and make sure to keep that list handy.

You will face challenges in college. You will be in a new place, meeting new people, contemplating new ideas and adjusting to new dynamics. Yet, you also will find that some core aspects of your life will remain the same. Hope for the future is built on your confidence in the present.

Stay strong

Once you have started well, how do you stay strong? Believe it or not, having a fairly regular sleeping, eating and exercising schedule is a great way to ensure strength. (And yes, it’s OK to stay out until 3 or 4 a.m. a few times while you’re in college; just do not make a habit of it.)

Developing a close group of friends (realistically, three to five) instead of trying to be friends with 50 strangers is also key. Some college students find that joining a club, a team, a choir or a common interest group can help them develop deeper friendships.

Finally, another way to stay strong, in addition to self-care and social activities, is to ensure that you are spiritually grounded in a faith community so that your relationship with God will be your ultimate source of strength.

Be healthy

What does it look like to be healthy? One of my daughters likes to describe the process of learning and mastery as “tension over time.” The good news is that nothing happens overnight. The bad news is that tension over time means we get stretched.

Being healthy does not mean the absence of stress, conflict, fear or weariness. Being healthy means having a strong spiritual foundation, an active lifestyle, a relational network of family and friends and a strong sense of purpose and meaning.

But what do you do if you feel like you have none of those things?

You must start somewhere. My suggestion is that you begin by cultivating your own personal belief system, which you can work out on your own or can talk through with a counselor, mentor, trusted spiritual leader, close friend, family member or professor. Once you are clear on what you believe and begin to mine the depths of your identity over time, then you can discover the physical, emotional and social activities that are life-giving to you.

It may take you your entire college journey to discover the basic framework of your beliefs and values along with the activities and environments that are life-giving to you — and that is OK. Leaving college with an understanding of what is healthiest for you is a glorious graduation present.

You can start well, stay strong and be healthy. You’ll need to be intentional, consistent and you cannot do this alone. When you walk across the stage with your degree, having a healthy life plan may actually be your biggest accomplishment.

John Jackson is president of William Jessup University, one of the top private Christian universities in the nation.

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