Uberti: A letter to my younger self: on doors that close

David Uberti

I had never been beaten up until I was 21 years old and in the best shape of my life.

A Fourth of July boating accident killed three children outside New York. As an intern for Newsday, I was sent to do journalism’s dirty work: knocking on survivors’ doors.

A pair of angry neighbors threatened me as I approached one of the kids’ homes. Only a second after I rapped my knuckles against its front door, the two bounded up the stairs, grabbed me by the neck and threw me against a wall.
They tossed me off the porch as if I were a rag doll. After I landed in crumpled heap on the grass below, they shoved me across the front yard for good measure.

I politely suggested they screw themselves as I dialed 911. The best part? No one was even home.

I never opened that door, let alone walk through it. But that’s Life. Sometimes you get beaten up – a lesson college, land of risk-free opportunity, often fails to teach.

That’s not to say it was worthless. Far from it. Northwestern instilled in me an unquenchable thirst to become smarter, better, faster and stronger in every sense of the words – not to get good grades, but rather to grow as a human being. That’s the foundation higher education is supposed to build.

Multiple stints in Washington made my last two years of college a blur. But they cemented a lesson commonly repeated by my Medill professors: Real education and self-improvement occur outside the classroom. The Ivory Petri dish can only culture students so much, for a big part of a fulfilling life is finding your own doors to open. College sets the table for that. It’s as much about learning what you don’t want to do as it is about understanding what you do. NU is among the best in that respect. And the quarter-million-dollar piece of paper I’ll pick up on graduation day boasts as much.

You can learn to speak Arabic, how to put together a college newspaper and which drugs not to do. You can take dance classes, even if you can’t dance. You can study how to build jet engines or master the intricacies of fashion design. And you’ll definitely find out how to win an argument.

I felt like I needed to do it all when I was a freshman, from making friends to acing classes and everything in between. It was overwhelming at first, but I realize now that the pressure was a good thing.

It forced me to test my limits, expanding them in the process. College — as advertised — makes you better at learning, organizing and analyzing information. The 10-page paper I wrote last week while watching playoff hockey took me as much focus as a five-pager once did in the library. I’m leaving college in the best intellectual shape of my life, a feeling sure to be shared by many.

So it’s time for me to disentangle myself from NU’s safety net. It’s time to take risks and flirt with failure. But most of all, it’s a challenge. Silver-platter opportunities are few and far between outside of college. Besides that, they’re boring.

NU provided the skills, knowledge and practice I need to create my own opportunities. What’s more is that it taught me to venture outside my comfort zone. That slice of mental territory is a living laboratory by itself, where you really gain self awareness.

To be sure, there’s plenty of college I don’t want to leave behind. Shotgunning Busch Light will no longer be socially acceptable. I won’t be able to wear jeans and a T-shirt wherever I go. Friends will fan out across the world.

But I can’t look forward and continue growing if I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting for the gift-wrapped opportunities handed out at NU. Life is about opening doors, sure. But it’s about closing them, too.