Notes on life lessons from a party school

Notes on life lessons from a party school

One of the things I love about the end of summer and start of fall is that feeling of new beginnings: it conjures up freshly-sharped pencils and crisp, blank notebooks, a bright backpack and a brand-new pair of shoes. I always loved going back to school: I would spend hours deciding on the perfect first-day-of-school outfit and the perfect agenda, daydream about all of the exciting things that would surely happen that year.

Chico State graduates It’s been 10 years since my first day of high school, five years since I graduated college and started my first “real job” the day after Labor Day. My career ladder has been more like a jungle gym, less linear and more full of zigs and zags than I ever could have anticipated. I moved schools often as a kid, and I think that ability to step into yet another brand-new classroom and completely believe I could make a friend is one of the reasons why I’m willing to take more risks now.

I graduated magna cum laude from California State University, Chico: I alternately describe it as a top Playboy party school or a quaint college town or one of the best journalism programs in the nation, depending on to whom I’m speaking. To be honest, it was a lot of bang for the buck: I had small classes, engaged professors, cheap rent and the quintessential “college experience” complete with keg parties and red cups, all delightfully subsidized by the taxpayers of California.

Chico State graduates

Chico alumni like to joke about our reputation as a party school, especially when intermingled with the fact that most of us have good jobs and good apartments: we’ve managed to graduate from this tiny, middle-of-nowhere town and make it in the big, bad world. In New York City alone, more than 10 of my closest friends graduated from Chico around the same time I did: several are killing it in the competitive PR/marketing world, one graduated from NYU law school, one is getting his PHD at NYU, one works at a record label. We joke that going to Chico doesn’t mean much, but if you graduate: it means you can socialize and still study, that you know how to balance work with parties.

A lot of what I do in my day job is essentially relationship building. It’s about connecting with the right people, about creating a rapport, about figuring out a mutually-beneficial project. It’s why I drink so many lattes and go to so many happy hours. It’s why I believe in hand-written thank-you notes and picking up the phone to deliver big news, good or bad. Strong relationships–whether it’s a friend or a co-worker or a boyfriend–thrive on eye contact, laughter, shared experiences.

It’s easy to hide behind a computer, to rely on text messages and Twitter and double-tapping on Instagram. Great work is done on computers, wonderful writing is finished when you’re squirreled away from distractions. But if there’s one thing that Chico taught me, it’s that nothing is as good as a good party. Good parties encourage you to say hello to a stranger and throw you in a room with friends you haven’t seen in a while; they encourage you to laugh and talk and maybe take a risk. Even if you don’t remember the details, you remember that fuzzy happy way that you felt.

Chico State graduates

As Tom Petty so wisely said (and advice I’d wish I’d taken more: not once has a job asked for my college GPA to validate all of those hours spent in the library!): “I’ve learned one thing, and that’s to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here, relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday when you have a paper due on Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does…”

This back-to-school season is throwing all sorts of life changes at me, and I keep conjuring up that feeling I had as a kid on a first day of school: a little bit nervous and a little bit scared but also pretty stoked for a shiny new classroom and all of those potential best friends.

And I’m also remembering that as a Chico State grad, there’s an obligation to work hard and party hard, but also to put people first. That people might not remember what you said or did, but they’ll remember the way you made them feel–and that it’s truly not what you know, but who you know and how you make them feel. And it’s those lessons that make me pretty darn grateful I graduated from a party school.

What’s the best life lesson you learned in college? 


  • I studied in one of Spain’s top private universities (a catholic one – church included) – Most of the students came from a very traditional Spanish background. And there there was my degree: “International Business”. We were placed at the top floor, away from the rest of the courses. We were the ones that might as well walk in with broken jeans (back when that wasn’t yet trendy). We were the ones with the loud laughs, the unconventional goals, the global mindset and (lets admit it) – the best parties!

    And while many other students considered us less important (ours was, after all, a general 4 yrs business degree while they became engineers, economists and lawyers) – we are all a career success! I have friends from University working at top banks and consumer products conglomerates, others have become economic journalists in developing countries and more than a few have jumped into starting something of their own. My time at this University (as well as my time at their German partner Uni) has taught me everything I know about building meaningful relationships, creating rapport and maintaining long-distance friendships over now more than 8 years. And I’m so thankful for it!

  • camorose

    YES! I love that story–so glad you shared!

  • purplekat99

    CSU’s are the best! They teach you how to act and react in the real world, smaller classes and great professors included. We are so lucky to live (or in your case, have lived) in California. When I see the price of tuition these days, I choke. Even when I saw it when I was in school (10+ years ago!) the difference in cost and not nearly that much in quality (I had at least 3-4 professors from USC during my time in community college and CSUN, at 1/100 the cost) I spat.

  • A lot of people from Europe (or maybe it’s just my boyfriends friends, all english) bash university saying the U.S. is obsessed with getting higher degrees, and while in the states to get a good job straight away people go back for their MBA, in England almost no one has one.. we do love college in the U.S.! but for me I learned BALANCE. I got a nursing degree, worked 30 hrs a week at the hospital (sometimes way more), and partied my butt off all while paying my bills… even tho I don’t use my degree now, college at OSU (another big party school) taught me so much about life.

  • Stephanie

    I JUST graduated from Chico State in May, and wow is it hard to adjust! I was also in a sorority there, and seeing all my friends move back into the house I lived in for two years, have sisterhoods and prep for Greek Week .. it makes me super nostalgic. I think that’s why I’ve always loved your blog – all the experiences you’ve had since graduating make me believe that while college was the best time of my life, it was the best so far. I’m even semi-following in your footsteps – I’m moving to Thailand for a year October 23! And next March I’ll be traveling for a month to Cambodia, Vietnam, China and the Philippines.

    As far as what the best lesson I learned from college was .. I’m not sure just yet! Maybe I’m too naive to realize the most important thing I learned is the most important thing I learned .. if that makes sense. But Chico rules I’ll never forget: the pool to Loveboat is always unlocked, so jump off the roof; always go up to the announcer at Bear Bingo and say you got there late to get an extra card; become close to your advisers, they can help you a lot (Susan and Dave Waddell were my advisers!); and put in the extra effort to stay close to your friends after graduating.

  • camorose

    Agreed! I went to a private Catholic high school, and I just about died when I found out that my tuition in high school cost more than my tuition at Chico State! The journalism program at Chico had such small classes since the Mac lab only had about 21 computers–I’m blown away by how great my professors were and how intimate my classes were. So grateful that I didn’t have to go into debt to get a great education!

  • camorose

    I definitely see some truth in that Americans are obsessed with higher education–I don’t believe that EVERYONE needs to go to college. But I’m very grateful for the “college experience” that America offers: it’s such a fun part of growing up in the States!

  • camorose

    Oh this is so fun! Susan Brockus was my advisor too! I actually just chatted with one of my best sorority girlfriends yesterday and I think we’re planning a little reunion for the ADPi 25th anniversary next year!

    So glad that you had a wonderful Chico State experience as well, and that you’ll be taking some time to explore the rest of the world. Enjoy!

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  • Anđela Ćenan

    The best life lesson I learned in college is pretty much the same as you did… This is how I’d formulate it: Always find the time to get a cup of coffee. It’s not because of the coffee but because of the company and the conversation. Listen carefully and talk a lot to as many people as you can. 🙂

  • camorose

    YES, 100 PERCENT. I was actually just interviewed for a college publication, and my number one piece of advice was to treat people for coffee 🙂

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