B e Y our O wn H ero The Impor tance of Independence M ore than 200 years after the Revolutionary War, it’s easy to forget the Fourth of July is about more than fireworks and backyard barbecues.
Every freshman at the University of South Carolina has to take a class called University 101, which lasts for a few
weeks and sets the stage for college and life after it. The best advice I ever got about school came from an older student in that class. He said, “The habits that you start today are the habits you’ll carry for the rest of your life.” In other words, start sleeping in until 2 p.m. in college, and you’ll probably always be a late sleeper.
But July 4th is known as Independence Day for a reason: It marks the date when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the American colonies finally extricated themselves from the British government. I like to think of the colonies as kids who were finally mature enough to stand up to their parents and struck out on their own for the first time. That comparison always reminds me of my own first stab at adulthood, although I have a lot more affection for my parents than the Founding Fathers had for King George III. The moment of truth came right after I graduated high school. That summer, my parents sold the house where I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, and moved to the mountains of Brevard, North Carolina. I left for my college dorm around the same time, and it felt like I no longer had a home to go back to. I would visit my parents, but when I moved downtown to attend the University of South Carolina, I felt like I was completely on my own. Even if that wasn’t true — I was still in my hometown, after all — that’s how it felt. The experience was a real awakening, and I suddenly understood it was up to me to steer my life from there. During that year, I worked at becoming self-sufficient and independent. I learned to cook my own meals on a budget, did my own laundry, and found a good study partner. To this day, I think of that as the most transformative year of my life. Even though I’ve gotten married, dealt with the death of a parent, and become the father of two kids, I’ll always remember my freshman year of college as the time that helped me become the man I am today.
To a large extent, I think he was right. A lot of my friends from college went on to have successful careers, but my best friend and I ended up going the furthest and ascending the fastest. He became a high-ranking vice president at Dell, and I started my own law firm. I credit a big portion of our success to us really believing we were independent at 18 years old. We realized there wasn’t some distant date when life would begin, but rather, we were responsible for our lives already. If I could give everyone entering college at the end of this summer one piece of advice, it would be this: Consider your actions carefully because what you’re doing now has a lot to do with the trajectory of your life and how you’ll conduct it. Sure, you can’t control everything that will happen to you, but you can control your outlook and actions. Though it can sometimes seem like teachers are preparing you for a life that starts at some point in the future, life actually starts now, not at graduation or in 10 years. My sons are still young —Austin is 12 and Walker is 7 — but I’m already trying to teach them to take responsibility for their lives. Austin, who is in the 6th- grade gifted program, recently brought home his first B. He was disappointed but shrugged it off because his grades “wouldn’t count” until he was older. I pointed out that while there’s nothing wrong with a B, I knew it wasn’t his best, and doing your best always counts. Even as a 6th grader, you’re responsible for making good choices, and taking personal responsibility is an important part of having a productive, joyful, and fulfilling life. Whether you’re 7, 12, or 50, now is the time to learn how to be your own hero. –Gary Christmas 1 843-535-8000
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