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To the incoming freshmen, welcome to the University of Texas at San Antonio! Like sitting behind the wheel for the first time, your upcoming college experience might excite, stress or scare you. It’s all right — you will learn to navigate this new world the way a new driver learns to navigate the road. 

First, you learn to control the vehicle, from the gas pedal to the windshield wipers. Gradually, you learn your routes and hit the road. But, of course, there are things you can’t control: obstacles appear out of nowhere, streets detour and reckless drivers imperil themselves and others. 

However, you can only control yourself and count on your own driving skills to take you to your destination. In this mildly amusing metaphor, you are the driver, and the road is your chosen path through life. There are certain driving principles which apply well to your college pursuits, including some of the most powerful advice on the planet: learn to control yourself.

No, controlling yourself is not the most fun thing in the world, but it is a trait learned by every successful person you will ever meet. You are your own individual, and college affords you immense freedom. You must decide how you are going to handle it. Opportunities to pursue new interests, meet different people, gain valuable knowledge and develop yourself await! So do opportunities to sleep, miss class, procrastinate and much worse. It’s impossible to control the innumerable externals beyond us, making the capacity to heed our own commands so powerful. I encourage you to start thinking about it now so that when you encounter problematic circumstances and the moment is fresh, you won’t take a wrong turn. How are you going to react? Sometimes you will need to improvise, but imagining your own behavioral outline of how you want to live each day will serve you well.

Your success isn’t as determined by colossal decisions as it is by the small, seemingly invisible decisions of daily life. If you break it down, every long drive consists of single turns, lane-changes and traffic lights, so it is with university. Will you get up early to study for a test? Or will you sleep late and take your chances? Will you start on your research paper early? Or, will you procrastinate and turn in sloppy work? Caution: many of your choices will be habit-forming! From my experience, success is not a singular event or instance; it is more like a collective scatter plot that trends according to our daily decisions. So grasp the wheel with both hands, be alert, stay in your lane and remember the bigger importance of your little choices.

If you end up off the road, there’s still hope. You can backtrack wrong turns. You can find your way again after you’ve been lost. You can even fix a flat tire or jumpstart a dead battery. But, if your car ends up totaled, there’ll be no getting to your destination. Why do I inject such a nasty twist? People come to college and don’t come back. It’s trendy to parrot the “just live for the moment” motto until someone drives drunk and never comes home. It takes a lot of small good decisions to be successful overall, but it only takes one bad decision to fail a test, land in jail or make the obituary column. Be careful, stay proactive, mind your integrity and control yourself.

As an upperclassman, I’ve driven the college road for a few years now, and I’ve seen enough to provide ample advice.Those who learn to control themselves not only become the people they want to be but also fashion the lives they want. Write down a description of who you want to become and live it out every day. You can be whoever you want so long as you have the discipline to see it through, and it is precisely the measure of our own self-discipline that makes us who we are. Often, the difference between brilliant and mediocre is sheer willpower, and I hope you bear it in mind going forward. Welcome to UTSA! Drive friendly, have fun, but always remember to control yourself.

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