If this is your first year at UCSB, welcome! I don’t think my message to you should extend too far beyond that simple greeting. I’m not going to pretend that being in college for a year has made me that much smarter or wiser than you; I’m not about to talk you down. What the last year has done is given me time to fuck up, and time to watch my friends fuck up even more. And even though I’ve made some of the best decisions of my life this past year, I’ve discovered that the poor decisions are usually the ones we learn from the most.

What I will add in lieu of a simple “welcome,” then, is a brief anecdote, and a prediction: If you wander over to the Rec Cen in the next few days, you’ll probably notice that it’s stuffed to the gills with testosterone-charged freshmen. I’ve been avoiding the gym all week for this very reason.

What’s interesting about the sudden influx of overzealous bench-pressers is that in a couple of weeks, all but a few of them will be gone. You’ll be able to get through the front doors without feeling like a golf ball jammed in a vacuum cleaner, and you’ll be able to work out without getting drenched in someone else’s sweat storm. The reason for this — and the reason I’m so confident in my prediction — is that most of those freshmen in the gym don’t actually want to be there.

That might sound strange, but it’s true. People do things they don’t really want to do all the time, and if you’re a freshman straight out of high school, you’re especially susceptible to this phenomenon. After all, college is the most anticipated, idolized and idealized time in a young person’s life. You’re expecting it to be a certain way, and many of you — whether you know it consciously or not — will move mountains to keep it that way. It’s through this long and arduous process that you’ll make deci- sions that don’t always coincide with your beliefs, and do things that run contrary to your character.

As I said before, the point of this column isn’t to talk down to you, but if there was one piece of advice I could give you, it would be this: Stay true to yourself. I know that sounds cliché, but as we move further and further into the 21st century, as we tap more and more into sources of information on the internet and on TV, I fear it’s become more of an antiquity than a cliché. Our ability to think and act indepen- dently has been curtailed by the thoughts and actions of others. This is one of the major problems I’ll seek to address with this column, and as a freshman, it’s one of the major problems you will face in the upcoming year. You’ll be pressured by those around you to partake in activities you may not enjoy — sex, drugs and alcohol, to name a few — and if you can’t distinguish between what you genuinely enjoy and what you’re expected to enjoy, you’ll end up living life by someone else’s standards.

Let me be clear: I’m not telling you to avoid drugs. If smoking pot makes you happy and in some way adds to your life, smoke pot! If blacking out on a Friday night and waking up naked in a stranger’s bed makes you happy, go for it! But don’t allow yourself to be motivated by the expectations of others. Don’t become the per- son your friends want you to be to appease them, or become the kid your parents don’t want you to be to spite them. Don’t use the failures of others as an excuse to fail yourself. Be a straight-A bookworm because you love to learn, not because your parents expect it of you. Be a slut because it’s who you are, not because your boy- friend dumped you. As long as you make decisions you believe in, they’re the right decisions for you.

I’m not suggesting it will be easy. At this age most of us don’t have a clue who we are, let alone who we want to be. But I believe we all have an intrinsic will, a small voice in our heads that is often drowned out by the voices and opinions of others, and even if you can’t hear it now, you can at least know it’s there, and you can chal- lenge yourself to find it someday.

Or you can simply say I’m full of shit and continue to do as you please. Either way, you’ve taken my advice to heart.

Some may run from Mark Strong’s advice, but none will able to hide.