By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Arriving on my university campus as a freshman, I carried a secret no one but my junior-level brother knew: I was only 16.
I had skipped a grade in high school, but I told no one. I already lived in the shadow of my very smart big brother. I didn’t want the whole campus to treat me like a little sister, either.
I learned a lot that year, lessons that apply to freshmen of any age, including:
1. Beat loneliness by seeking friends.
I attended a university hundreds of miles from home, meaning that I would not see my parents for three and a half months (this was in the days before cheap airfare and free long distance). My brother attended the same school, but as a junior, he shared no classes or social association with me. This meant that not being lonely was all up to me. Holing up in my room wouldn’t bring me lots of friends, so I worked part-time and joined a play and volunteer groups. It’s easy to make friends when you try.
2. Respect is earned.
I observed other freshmen engaging in high school drama and emotional games, which caused others to lose respect for them. Treating others with honesty, kindness and respect caused others to reciprocate, for the most part.
3. Be tactful, not dishonest.
I didn’t waltz into my dorm room the first day and declare, “Hey, I’m only 16!” but never lied when asked. By then, most people who knew me realized that a two-year age difference didn’t matter much. My experience of graduating early helped me mature in various ways.
4. Maturity is relative.
I still had a lot of growing up to do, but so did the 18-year-old freshmen. Maturity is a continuum. People mature at different rates in different ways.
5. Don’t let others put you down.
Regardless of the reason, no one has the ability to make you feel less about yourself.
Through the school’s food service, my loving mom sent me a birthday cake that stated in frosting, “Happy 17th birthday!” The campus food workers left student cakes on a table in the dining common for anyone and everyone to read. Naturally, I received quite a bit of ribbing once my big secret was out; however, I didn’t let any mean spirited teasing get to me. After all, I had worked hard to graduate early. What had they done that was so special?
Deborah Jeanne Sergeant earned a bachelor’s degree in church ministries and minored in English at Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wis.