To Underclassmen Eagles: Make Not Just Friends, But Friends Who Are Different

This is a fifth in a series, titled “Letter to an Eagle,” in which I author a letter to past, current, and/or future students of Boston College, expressing my views on my beloved alma mater, advising on surviving and thriving at The Heights, and sharing personal stories from my collegiate (and law school) days.

This fifth letter is addressed to current underclassmen of Boston College who are in the position to form friendships that last a lifetime.


Dear Underclassman Eagles,

After you graduate from Boston College,  you’ll realize that your years at Chestnut Hill shaped many aspects of your life.  The liberal arts education that instilled a sense of public service is one.  The life-long friendships that you formed is another.

As an underclassman, you’re likely still building your circle of friends, and to those who are, I have one recommendation:  go out of your comfort zone and become friends with people who are different from you, in their interests, in their politics, and in their background.

I’ve come to learn that friendships are formed, not on common interests, background or even thinking, but rather on the intangibles that are better characterized as emotional rather than rational.  The beginning of a friendship is often best described by that old, clichéd saying that goes “We just hit it off.”

Why a friendship was formed may often be amorphous, but there is one certainty about the how: you can only become friends with people you know.  And that means that now, and for only the next few years while you are in college, you have the once-in-a-lifetime  opportunity to become friends with the most unexpected people.

It’s just a fact of life that after graduation, the people you’ll become friends with are those with whom you share something significant.  If you become a doctor, most of your friends will probably be doctors, nurses and others who are in the healthcare profession.  If you proceed to graduate school in philosophy, you’ll probably become close with other philosophers who’ll understand your Satre-like pontification on the meaning of grass.  If you end up as a wine connoisseur, you’ll likely find that you’re spending much of your free time with other wine snobs.

The friends you make in college needn’t be so obvious and predictable, for in college, you are surrounded with people who are different from who you are and who you will become.  This, of course, is the by-product of an academic institution’s conscious effort to make the student body as diverse as possible.  It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find anything remotely similar at places you’ll be after graduation, when you’ll be in an  environment that is likely to be, either unconsciously or deliberately, homogenous in skill, personality or thinking.

I’d like to think that I took full advantage of the rare opportunity.  I have very little in common with many of my friends from Boston College, whether in our studies, our interests or our ultimate careers.  Perhaps it helped that I was naturally surrounded by people whose view of the world was greatly different from mine because my politics was in the distinct minority on campus. This difference meant that my collegiate experience involved late evenings into early mornings debating politics with my roommates that never reached a conclusion.  It is those moments that taught me that perfectly intelligent, rational people can have vastly different understanding of the most fundamental aspects of America and the world.  They helped me gain an invaluable perspective.  And so it is that when I look at what’s going on in Washington, I don’t wonder why the place is so divisive.  I know the reason:  it’s because I couldn’t even reach an agreement in my dorm room.

The point, though, isn’t about the importance of becoming friends with the person you most often debate in your political science class.  After all, politics is trivial in the grand scheme of your life since it likely has little practical impact on the life you’re going to lead after graduation.

The purpose of  having diverse friends is much deeper and more personal.  It is friends with different set of skills who have studied subjects that you can’t comprehend and who went on to a career that you didn’t even know existed who will be able to provide you with insights that you desperately need but can’t get from friends who share your biases.  These are the friends who can give you a reality check when you need one because they live in a different reality from yours.  These are the friends who can give you appreciation and understanding of the life you have come to live because they live an entirely different life.

Of course, friends must be first and foremost people whose company you enjoy.  Associating yourself with people who are different but whom you can’t stand defeats the purpose of establishing a close personal bond.  And it will likely turn out that the people with whom you have the most fun are those with whom you share a commonality.

But friendships can be formed with people who are outside of your comfort zone, if only given the opportunity.   And college is the last time in your life when you’re given such opportunity.  It would seem a tremendous waste if you don’t make the best of it.


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