Adulting: 8 Tips for Graduates

Adulting. verb. “To behave like an adult; to do things that adults regularly have to do.”

Megan Sugden Photography print to 8x10 (33 of 83)

Photo by Megan Sugden Photography.

Dear Andrew (and other graduates),

Welcome to the real world. I’m still not sure how you got here.

When I graduated from high school, you were a pipsqueak with chubby cheeks and shaggy hair and a propensity to laugh until you cried.


You still laugh until you cry, and until recently, you had even longer, shaggier hair. But you also look like a sort-of adult, and you run faster than I can, and you stay up later than any of us. You’ll wear a mortarboard on Saturday, and the women in our family will cry, and you’ll be so glad to be done.

Then the fun begins.

Henceforth you must be an adult, or at least pretend to be one. Adults have to do hard things. For example, they must get out of bed even if no one forces them to do so. They must ensure that they eat, because no one else will buy bread when it runs out. They must do the laundry, at some point, maybe. Target will tell you which hangers to buy, and your advisors will tell you what classes to take. But only your oldest sister can tell you this – the random list of advice that you will probably never read (but definitely should. Oldest sisters always know best.)

  1. Learn how to cook at least one thing well. You will sometimes be asked to bring food to events. Or, perhaps, you might someday want to wow someone with some nice home cookin’. (Guys – girls are really, really impressed by men who can cook.) Have at least one recipe that you know won’t embarrass you. (If you really are hopeless, Ghiradelli brownie mix works miracles.)


  1. Track your spending. You really need to. I didn’t do this until after college, and I wish I would have started sooner. Seeing cold, hard numbers and realizing exactly where you throw your hard-earned cash is sobering.


  1. Find a hobby that is not Netflix. Binge-watching is easy and entertaining. It is not fulfilling. You will be a happier (and more interesting) human being if you step away from the screen for a while and actively participate in something. Sing. Lift weights. Paint. Yarn-bomb trees in parks. Start a paintball league. Bring back planking. Take walks after dinner. Just do something.


  1. Meet deadlines. You don’t run the world (yet). That means that you need to respect other people – and their time. Showing up on time and meeting deadlines makes you seem mature, which is especially valuable if you aren’t so certain that’s true. It also saves you money. Let’s be honest – no one likes late fees.


  1. Do not begin a new relationship in your first semester of college. In your first few months in a new place, you need time to adjust. You need time to establish a solid friend group. You need time to let yourself change and adapt to your new surroundings. Don’t spend all of your time pursuing one person and neglecting the rest of your life. You need healthy balance and other healthy relationships to be ready to date someone, and trust me, it will take all of your energy to develop those in your first semester. Make yourself at home, then work on snagging that dreamboat.


  1. Remember your need for community and find it. We are not meant to meander through life alone. We need community. We need people to watch movies with on Friday nights, to laugh at dumb YouTube videos with, to sit in coffee shops with. Get out of your room, to events and churches and clubs and classes, and talk to people. Take the initiative and ask someone to grab dinner, or to attend a hall event with you, or to toss a Frisbee with you. You are not bothering them or wasting their time by asking them to spend time with you. People want to make friends, generally, and you are an interesting person who is worthy of being someone’s friend.


  1. Do not compare yourself to the Internet. Your life must amount to more than your Instagram feed or your number of Twitter followers. Otherwise, the most enjoyment you will get from a walk around the lake or a nice latte or a brunch with friends will be the likes you get on photos afterwards. That’s a piddly amount of enjoyment compared to the quiet thrill of being present in the moment and enjoying your life as it is, not as you want people to see it. And when you get snarky and jealous over the person who’s Instagram famous, remember: do not compare someone else’s public life to your private life. They don’t post the snapshots from the nights when they are convinced they’ll be single forever, or that time they failed a test, or that argument they just had with their girlfriend, or those times when they were so homesick they could cry. We are all human. We all have terrible days, and we all have good days. Filtered pictures do not change that.


  1. Know that everyone has one really terrible college semester. Mine was fall semester, freshman year. I didn’t feel like anyone truly knew me, or like I would ever find my place on that big college campus, or like I was any good at anything. I literally counted the days until I could go home at each college break, and I sobbed every time I had to return. But I kept showing up (I was paying tuition, after all), and tried to form deeper relationships, and gave myself grace. And like all terrible life seasons, it got better. If you’re going through one of the nasty seasons, you will not stay there forever. Things are not hopeless. Hang in there.


Many blessings to you, Andrew, and to all of those headed off on new adventures. May the transitions be smooth, the chances to do laundry for free be frequent, the backpacks light, and the memories stupendous.


Classroom: 10 Tricks That Keep Me Sane

Classroom. noun. A place of learning (I hope!) and where I spend a large portion of my life.



Welcome to my classroom!

Confession: I’m a novice teacher, with an entire half a year of experience under my belt. I’m not sure you should take my advice.

But… I’m willing to risk it. I love seeing what other teacher’s classrooms look like, especially if they aren’t Pinterest perfect. My room sure isn’t – attainable (definition: so easy a beginner could come up with it after an hour of Internet searching) is more my style. And my very attainable set-up and organization this year have worked well – I’m happy, at least, and the students haven’t complained. So, without further ado, here are 10 things that are streamlining our lives in ELA 7 and preventing me from going crazy.

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1. Lamps and extra lighting. Oh, the horrors of overhead florescent lights. I had to turn them on to take photos, but when kids are in the room, we have only one of three light switches flipped. Two lamps and Christmas lights brighten things up and keep the room cozy. I have not once regretted spending $14 on lighting.

2. Numbered desks. Student desks are arranged in pods.  Each desk in each group has a number that’s written on the corner in Sharpie paint pen. I can tell #2s to turn in their pod’s work or #4s to record answers for group discussions. It’s makes everyone feel like they’re getting a fair deal and streamlines classroom procedures. (In theory) the paint pen comes off easily at the end of the year. I am so glad I overheard a teacher in the lounge talking about this strategy last year, because I LOVE it.


3. The supply shelves. Note the basic “I ran out of ideas for bulletin boards, so here’s a poster,” weekly agenda, and instructional posters in this photo as well. Having all supplies that students can use centralized on these shelves simplifies everything. The boxes hold students’ journals, our class set of whiteboards, and copies of logic puzzles that students are allowed to work on when they’ve finished assignments. The drawers hold index cards, extra loose-leaf paper, construction paper, whiteboard markers, and clipboards. They might get labels…by December…maybe.

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4. Supply buckets. Each group of desks has its own bucket of colored pencils. Goodbye broken pencils strewn across the floor! Highlighters used to be included in the buckets, but did you know you can build a tower of highlighers while listening to an audio recording? And all your friends will catch on? And then the highlighters will earn their own bucket because your teacher isn’t an idiot?


5. Our very very loose Adventure theme. I have some things from my own travels around my desk, but these posters are the decoration “focal point.” Applying that term is a stretch. Please don’t look too closely at the slapdash (but free!) “frame” of black chart paper, attached to the poster with sticky tack, then stuck to the wall with magnets. I do love this theme, and these posters, though, and that’s what counts.

rules.jpg 5. The inherited in/out boxes. Piles all over my desk stress me out, and this tower keeps all those assignments organized and out of sight. The trays at the bottom hold extra materials. Students get to dig through the drawer when they’ve lost something.

Other stuff: The white milk crate on the floor is our lost and found. The magazine holder has book reviews, which students fill out and tape into their journal every time they finish a book. In theory, the black tray on the table is for absent work. This is a nice concept, but I am atrocious at updating it. I have, at least, been keeping a paper copy of attendance. Seeing who was gone for what assignment is now SO MUCH easier. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had to strongly enforce those classroom rules laid out on the poster yet. However, I can sense that the time is coming. Soon.

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6. All the paper organization on ye ol’ desk. I am high maintenance about order.



A very recent update: binders with resources and materials go right behind my desk. Easy access (i.e. not having to get out of my chair) means I actually look at them – and, on good days, file stuff in them.

papers.JPG The giant mail organizer is partly organized by day of the week for each of my preps – see fancy masking tape labels. It has worked wonders. The rest of it holds random stuff that I need on hand but haven’t found a great way to organize yet. I hate filing, so the upright organizer accumulates things that I’ve collected for each class period and materials that need to go into my unit binders. The expanding file folder is golden for transporting grading home – I try not to do it too often, but it happens.


7. A clean desk. (This is not clean.) During the day my desk mostly looks…worse than this.  I am, however, enough of a weirdo that I clean it off every single afternoon before I leave. Things that help: I’m attempting to put my copies of answer keys and such and all handouts for the day into the stand-up organizer so I don’t set them down randomly/have to give kids a marginally content-related discussion question while I go on a mad hunt. It works better the more I do it. That purple binder has class lists in page protectors for easy note-taking. I keep class lists and weekly attendance sheets on a clipboard, which is buried in this photo. Taking out a binder each hour is legitimately too much work.

8. The cup of #2 pencils is for students to use. (See metal cup and purple/white sign in above photo.) They have to leave a phone/iPad or shoe as ransom so they don’t forget to return the pencil. This cup is nearly full a month in, so I’d say it’s working!



9. The cell phone sign. Red = no phones, yellow = headphones allowed, and green = phones allowed for academic reasons. The signs are stuck to the front whiteboard with a magnet. Students take them very seriously and remind me to change them if I forget.



10. Book recommendations.  I put bored students in my homeroom to work making this poster of books I’ve read recently and would recommend. It helps me think of recommendations, and I’ve already heard students discussing the merits of the books on it. I’ll add to it as I read more. This idea was borrowed from other awesome teachers on my team.


Things I gave up on: Keeping track of every book in my classroom library. Alphabetizing the classroom library. Basically, the classroom library. Perfectly backing every learning target sign with coordinating construction paper and laminating them. (Taking advantage of bored students during advisory is worth messy posters.) Keeping those pods at perfect angles.

Things I’ll continue: Keeping a secret chocolate stash. Making kids pick their paper scraps off the floor. Trying new things. Creating a place where students can learn and grow.


What am I missing? What are YOUR best classroom tips?





Freshman. noun. According to the all-knowing, “A student in the first year of the course at a university, college, or high school; a novice or beginner.”

Image via Pinterest

In a few days I will begin my junior year of college.

Shut up.

How did that happen?

Most days I still feel like the uncertain freshman who’s getting her bearings amidst life’s topsy-turvy. I still look the same as that girl, the one who toted picture frames and fuzzy blankets and turquoise cups into her dorm room for first time. We’re both rather tall and very blonde and slightly sunburnt. Sometimes we act the same, too. We get our homework done and read books for fun and like things organized and understood.

But as I look back on the past two years, there’s a lot that’s different about me, too. I’ve done new things, like play college basketball, comprehend Chinese, attempt to give speeches, write lesson plans, and take on the roles of TA and Orientation Leader. I’ve felt tearfully homesick and overwhelmingly stressed and hopelessly weary. I’ve been grateful and joyful and swept up in love and peace and grace.

You learn a lot more than textbook facts at college.

And for the dear freshmen entering the fray for the first time, I know that going into college can be exhilarating and anxiety-ridden and joyful and terrifying in the same breath. I know independence looks freeing and fascinating and frightening. I know it’s bittersweet to leave behind the comfy familiar and dive into something completely foreign. And I know this whole thing might feel a bit out of control. (And most days, it kind of is.) But you aren’t in this alone. I’ve done the freshman thing. So have lots of people. And we can look back and pass on what we’ve learned, what we hope you’ll learn. So, to the sweet ones heading out into this brand-new world, here is my heart for you.

I hope that you will try stuff. Even the stuff that’s scary. Especially the stuff that’s scary. Try out for the team even if you don’t think you’re good enough. Join the club even if people back home might think it’s lame. Stick with the class even if the syllabus is intimidating. Jump into the Ultimate Frisbee game on the campus green even though you don’t know anyone playing. Dive into every single opportunity that you can.

I hope that you will meet lots of people, and that while doing so you will remain kind and open and authentic, looking for what you can give rather than what you can be given. I also hope that while meeting people, you will not be frustrated when everyone else has someone to sit with at lunch and you haven’t found your people yet. It takes time. You are not hopelessly awkward and annoying and unlovable, so give yourself some grace and take a hearty helping of patience for good measure.

I hope that you will give your roommates a chance, that you will remain flexible and patient even if they have quirky personalities and are not exactly like you and do not put on the toilet paper the right way.

I hope that you will transform your stark dorm into an actual home, surrounding yourself with beauty and comfort and joy. (You’re going to need it after long days in lecture halls.) Post pictures of family or sunsets or Audrey Hepburn or whatever makes you happy. Hang Christmas lights and flip on floor lamps so you don’t rely on nasty fluorescent overheads. Cozy up with blankets and excessive numbers of pillows. Create a space where you can breathe.

I hope that you will call your mom. On a regular basis. Because otherwise she might believe that you have been kidnapped. And also because she cares about you and still wants to be part of your life.

I hope that you will not buy into the comparison game. It’s one that you will not win, for the girl in 8:00 Comp will always wear more Pin-worthy outfits and the boy in the front row will always have better answers and the person lapping you at the track will always run faster. You are not them. Do not try to be them.

I hope that you will not fend off starvation solely with ramen or see sleepiness as nothing more than a call for more coffee. Eat vegetables. Get sleep. Visit the free fitness center every once in a while. Take care of your body. After all, you’re kind of stuck with it.

I hope that you will know that regardless of what happens, it’s going to be okay. Really. It may be two in morning and the paper may be due in your first class and the boy might not have realized you exist yet and you may want to cry or throw up or move back home. But you will make it. Really. No matter what you’re going through, it’s going to be okay.



This post is fondly dedicated to the college freshmen in my life, from my little sister who’s joining me at Northwestern this fall to my friends from work and school and church to the lovely ladies who will be moving into my hall in a few days. Blessings on your new adventure!