Welcome to College

Dear Class of 2025,

On move-in day, you may have noticed the blue and white banners affixed to the dormitories. They read “Welcome Home”. You know, I’ve never been too enamored with those banners. Because, this is not your home. Not yet at least. No. This is college. And, college is meant to be a casting out (of you) into the wilderness. And, whereas home is the comfort and safety of what you know, the wilderness is not. So, if you are feeling unease and anxiety this is normal. But, know this, in the middle of this densely tangled mess of briar and branch is a sunlit clearing of grass. Your task (in college) is to get there. What’s there? Who you are meant to become. But, also know this, there is no well-trodden path to follow. You will have to machete your own way. So, you should expect to struggle. And, you should expect to fail at something at some point along the way. This is inevitable. It is necessary. And, it is useful. It is college telling you that your high-school self and you high-school ways will not work here. So, yeah, you should be feeling awash in uncertainty. But, I promise you that it will pass. How quickly? Well, that depends on you. That is, it depends on how willing you are to leave behind who you were, how willing you are to scrutinize every aspect of your before-you-came-to-college existence: your worldview, your assumptions, your story.

Are you willing to leave home?

This is the ask of college.

Now, it is not an easy ask.

But it is the ask.

And, know that if you say “yes”, then it is my job to sting, disturb, question, poke, provoke and unsettle you. My job is to disrupt your life. Your high-school-self should not survive contact with me. This is not personal. It is part of the process of me moving you from where you are (the wilderness) to where you need to go (that sunlit patch of grass). And, as you’re trudging through the wilderness, know that I’ll be there when you need me. But, more importantly, know that I will not when you should do something alone.

Now, your job in all of this is to push back at me as hard as I push at you. Your job is to not accept anything I say at face value. And, if I you ever catch me on my soapbox, your job is to kick it out from under my feet. Oh, and one more thing, if I ever spout off about politics, your job is to not let that shit go unanswered. You should never know who I would vote for. College is not about indoctrination. It is about education.

And, what is education?

Sometimes it’s you and me and everyone else up on our feet engaged in a good-natured, mutually-beneficial brawl of competing ideas. When it is, I’m looking for a good opponent. Your job is to be that opponent.

Sometimes it’s you and me and everyone else engaged in a generous, collaborative effort to solve a pressing problem that’s sitting at the center of the circle in which we sit. When it is, I’m looking for a fellow problem-solver. Your job is to be that problem-solver.

On move-in day, “Welcome Home” is a nice message to send to first-year students and their loved ones. Because, in time you will make this place your home. However, it is also a customer-centric message. And, here’s the thing. You are not my customer. You are my student. There’s a difference. A big difference. I am not here to cater to who you are and your expectations. I have an obligation to who you will become, a life-long obligation to the making of that moment when you and I are standing on that sunlit patch of grass and your future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades.

Welcome to College.

Love, – dr H


I’m writing a book on my pedagogy called Rewild School, blogpost-by-blogpost. This is one of those blogposts. You can learn more by visiting Rewild School.

Thanks. – shawn