By Angel Harper

I came to the University of Nevada, Reno five years ago expecting a lot, as all incoming freshmen do. After my first year, in which I got my first time drinking, first kiss and first “boyfriend” under my belt all in one night, I thought, “Wow, this is college.” But I was wrong –– the biggest misconception about life is thinking that your own experiences are universal.

I was asked a few days ago to write this article, to give advice to everyone I am leaving behind at UNR in two weeks. I’ve been trying to compose some truly helpful points to pass on ever since I agreed to the task, but, while I have a lot to say and plenty of lessons learned, none of it matters to you unless get to those conclusions on your own. That’s what I had to do.

Most of what I learned came as the result of a mistake. I learned not to skip class after failing two in one semester and I learned not to black out after the horror of hearing my friends piece together the night for me. Of course you’re not supposed to fail a class or make an ass of yourself while drunk, but those simple truths did not sink in until I experienced them firsthand.

Like the way a baby does not learn the true meaning of the word “hot” until they get burned, I spent most of college learning what not to do. It’s the meaning that matters and you cannot get that unless you fuck up a few times.

Allowing yourself that leeway means you’ve got the green light to try anything and everything. Being aware that mistakes are to be had and are worth experiencing takes the second-guessing out of the situation. Go for it. Of course, don’t, like, commit a felony or try meth –– though I’m sure those mistakes would result in monumental lessons, keep your head on at least kind of straight.

I could tell you that I always remember to put a trash can by my bed because once I sat up and puked in my own hands and you could take that into account next time you drink, but what would that mean to you, really? Yeah, you’ll be better off in the morning, but I do not think you will appreciate your trash can as much as I do mine.

You can try and apply whatever I or the grads who appear alongside this column say to your life, but nothing will truly hit home until you, in so many words, puke in your own hands. I believe the never-again approach to mistakes is the best way to give personal embarrassments purpose and allow yourself move on.

Every single mishap was worth it, in a way, because then I could keep whatever from happening a second time. At least there was that; at least something good would come out of something bad. At least it was not all for nothing.

Because everything I learned required a circumstantial precursor and affected me in a specific way, I cannot give you blanket advice. I learned by individual experience and you will too. I suppose the only help I can offer is that last idea: that everything happens for a reason and you can pull out of it whatever you will.

I’ve learned so, so much, and I swear it’s not all drinking-related, though I cannot discount how much a bad night can teach you. College was killer in terms of growing up — “killer” as in crazy-cool and “killer” as in crazy-hard. But all that I have learned matters to me because of the way I learned it.

Pay attention to this process. Take note of what you do and don’t like and approach life accordingly. And don’t get hung up on the mistakes too much. You’ve got your whole life to not to puke in your own hands ever again. But it was kind of funny that one time, wasn’t it?

Angel Harper studies English. She can be reached at and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.