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THE MISTAKES OF COLLEGE
A TALK TO BOYS ON THE POINT OF
In a certain sense, college is the place for mistakes. In college a young man tests his strength, and, while testing it, is protected from the results of failure far more effectively than he will ever be protected afterward. The youth who is determined to succeed in public speaking may stand up again and again in a college debating club, may fail again and again, and through his failure may rise to success; whereas if he should put off his efforts until some political campaign had called him to the stump, no audience would listen to him, or even let him go on. “The mistakes that make us men," says Dr. Lyman Abbott,“ are better than the accuracies that keep us children.” Yet even in college there are mistakes by which the career of a happy, wellmeaning youth is suddenly darkened ; and though he may learn out of the very bitterness of his experience, he is never quite the same again.
All boys with a fair chance in the world have at their best a common motive, — to be of some use, to lead active, efficient lives, to do something worth doing, and to do it well, to become men on whom people instinctively and not in vain rely. Men and women may be divided roughly into two classes,—those who are “there,” and those who are “not there.” The “not there” people may be clever, may be what is called “good company," may have, even after you know them pretty well, a good deal of personal charm; but once know them through and through, and you have no use for
them. The “there” people may be unpolished, unmagnetic, without social charm; but once understand that they are " there,” and you get help and comfort from the mere knowledge that there are such people in the world. Every boy in his heart of hearts admires a man who is “there," and wishes to be like him; but not every boy (and here is the sad part of it) understands that to be “there" is the result of a long process, the result of training day by day and year by year, precisely as to be a sure man (I do not say a brilliant man) in the pitcher's box or behind the bat is the result of long training. A single decision or indecision, an act of a moment or a moment's failure to act, may turn a whole life awry; but the weakness of that moment is only the expression of a weakness which for months or for years has been undermining the character, or at best the result of a failure to train body, mind, and heart for the emergencies of life.
In this training we can learn, if we will, from other people's experience; and although boys are loath to accept anybody's experience but their own, and are not always wise enough to accept that, it is yet worth while to show them some dangers which other boys have met or have failed to meet, that they may not be taken unawares. A great man, almost too far above the temptations of the average boy to understand them, has condemned talking to boys and young men about temptation; he would fill their minds with good things : but there are no boys whose minds are so full of good things that a temptation cannot get in edgewise. An absorbing interest in a good something or a good somebody holds back and may finally banish the worst temptations; it is quite as important to interest boys in good things as to take away their interest in bad ones : but when all is said, the lightest hearted boy who comes to manhood must come to it “through sorrows and through scars.”
To many boys the beginning of college life is the first step into the world. Its dangers are much like those of other first steps into the world, yet with this difference: the college boy has the advantage of living where ideals are noble, and the disadvantage (if he is weak or immature) of living where he need not get heartily tired day after day in keeping long, inevitable hours of work. This disadvantage is indeed a privilege, but a privilege which like all privileges is bad unless accorded to a responsible being. To discipline one's self, to hold one's self responsible, is ever so much better than to be disciplined, to be held responsible by somebody else; but it is a task for a man. Naturally enough, then, the mistakes and the sins of college life are commonly rooted in boyish irresponsibility.
The average youth takes kindly to the