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Take advantage of Pitt’s opportunities, get involved

By Stephen Caruso / For The Pitt News

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Those first few days as a college freshman — when the air is still warm as summer turns to autumn and all of Oakland brims with excitement for a new school year — have the most intoxicating feeling to them.

Opportunities seem abundant. New people come into and out of your vision like brightly lit buildings from a night train. A lot of you young go-getters might even go to the Student Activities Fair at the Pete in August and dream of all you can do as a new member of the Pitt family.

But then classes start.

The realization hits you that you aren’t paying $18,000 to the University to merely savor life. You are here to learn and develop the human capital necessary to attain some sort of gainful employment after you pass through Pitt in the next four years. 

Those grand dreams of welcome week may become just another crushed autumn leaf on the ground outside the Cathedral.

The start of class did just this to my hopes of getting involved at Pitt. I remember circling many groups that looked like fantastic opportunities. 

The Student Organization Research Center registers about 400 groups on campus, but when confronted with them all at the Activities Fair, the number seemed larger. They catered to all my interests. There was a jazz band, debate club and even an undergraduate economics journal! What more could I want? But once I saw my first LON-CAPA assignment, it became tough to find the motivation to leave my dorm for the late meeting times of most college clubs — especially with classes at 8 or 9 a.m. the next day. 

First semester became a bit of grind. I still enjoyed it, but with a life made up of little more than class and the occasional weekend sojourn to Dithridge Street, it was dull.

Luckily, second semester, things started to change. I resolved before winter break to engage with the opportunities open to me. I had been an involved student in high school and enjoyed it, so why should things be different for me at Pitt? I followed through on my promise to myself and I learned a few lessons from it.

First, the less free time I had, the more I got done in that time. It’s like the old saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” 

For instance, I visited Squirrel Hill and bought the most delicious carrot cake dessert shot I’ve ever had. I attended a guest lecture on campus and learned about Polish troops in Hispaniola during Toussaint Louverture’s rebellion (If you are a history nerd like me, look it up). And I tasted some new ethnic cuisine with friends by trying out new restaurants, which has made me come to wish there was a good Indian restaurant in my hometown.  

I learned that it becomes easy to waste your free time when you have a lot of it. Justifying playing five straight games of “MLB 2k13” to yourself seems easier when you have swaths of days open to do whatever. But when I had only a few hours to parcel out to whatever I wished, I tried to make those hours count. 

I had to pick and choose how I used my time, and it made me more productive. My school work was now finished mid-afternoon a couple days before the due date, rather than completing it in a frenzy of vicious pen strokes and scribbles at 11 p.m. the night before. 

Second, I met many new friends. The more you get out, the more classmates you run into who share common interests. Having people who are not in your dorm to call friends is important. Just by visiting them in different residence halls, you run into more new people, make new friends and so on — a sort of nuclear fission of friendship. The more people you know, the more likely you are to know of activities and the less likely you are to have excess free time that is easy to waste.

You might even meet an upperclassman or two who takes a liking to your simple freshman ways. At the cost of a few Market swipes outside of your meetings, you will have a friend for life — or, at least, until the end of the semester. These newfound mature acquaintances will know Pitt and the college life much better than you, so soak in any knowledge they bestow upon you. For example, I’ve learned the best $5 pizza for late nights is Antoon’s and that you should never trust Pitt sports with a lead — they will sadly let you down.

With these lessons learned, I found college life far more rewarding than ever, but it’s not just a lesson for college — it is a lesson for everywhere you go in this world. If you make sure you keep yourself busy and involved in the communities you join, you will create opportunities for yourself by making new friends and keeping productive. It also makes those few precious hours during which you can sit down and play a game of MLB all the more sweet.

Write to Stephen at sjc79@pitt.edu

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Take advantage of Pitt’s opportunities, get involved