Intersections – 21 pairs of underwear

Posted by Dena Mellick May 20, 2015
Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

By Nicki Salcedo

Nobody listens to graduation speeches. I’ve sat through dozens of them in my life. I’ve heard Mikhail Gorbachev and Oprah Winfrey. I’ve heard astronauts and poets laureate speak. It must be tough to stand in front a bunch of optimistic academics and say, “Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.”

My niece is graduating from high school this week. She was my first baby. I’m trying to calmly accept the prom pictures and plans for New York University. But she is going to The New York City, and yes, I say this with a Texas accent.


No one tells you the truth when you go off to college. Your real suitcase needs 21 pairs of underwear. Your figurative suitcase should be equally practical.

  1. You will alternate between desperate longing for home and forgetting to call your mom for two weeks.
  2. Depression can happen. Sadness. Feeling overwhelmed. Anxiety. Learn to notice when your mood changes and be your own advocate. Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Ask for help. I did. Go see a counselor.
  3. It is okay to not become a doctor or lawyer or actor. My sister who wanted to become a lawyer became a lawyer. My sister who wanted an MBA got her MBA. I did not become a doctor. I thought this was a failure. No one told me it was okay to change my plans. No matter what you become, we all end up watching the same crappy shows on TV. You think AMC or HBO cares what kind of major you were when they decide to rip out your heart? No.
  4. Life is fair. We might not have the same opportunities, but we have the same choices. The choices are work hard, work smart, be silent, be silent and listen, listen, ask for help.
  5. Life is not fair. You will have some $hitty teachers in your life. This is fine. $hitty teachers are just preparing you for $hitty bosses.
  6. You will have far more excellent teachers (or bosses) in your life. Take note of what makes them excellent and emulate that. Also thank them.
  7. Remember that you are Southern. You know about football. You are kind. You know a little about zombies. You love God. There are only two things that impress a good Southern girl: Jimmy Carter and golf-ball sized hail.
  8. No job is ever beneath you. Now. In college. In the future. You’re a vegetarian, but take the job in the cafeteria deboning chicken for a semester. I did this. If you round up all the good people on the planet, at some point they all had the job deboning chicken or shoveling horse poop.
  9. Before you kiss anyone, ask yourself if you will be embarrassed to run into this person at Lenox Square Mall in 20 years. Because it will happen. Even if you go to school in California. Even if you go to school in New York.
  10. At some point, your weekend meal plan will be Ramen noodles and Halloween candy. This is not acceptable. Consider Cheerios and cheese sticks as a healthy alternative.
  11. Keep company with friends who have higher standards than you do. There are bad people in the world. Know this. Avoid the bad ones.
  12. You do not have to pull all-nighters. Plan ahead. Go to bed early, set the alarm for 2 a.m., and write that paper just before class.
  13. Put one ridiculous word in every paper you write. Consider these: juggernaut, oyster, unadulterated.
  14. Have one fluff sentence in every paper. This one comes from Mr. DiMuro of upstate New York: “When one considers the vast implications of the matter at hand, the prospects stagger the imagination.” A little levity may get you a passing grade or reduce your stress just enough to do good work.
  15. Take a calculus-based astronomy class even if you are a theater major. Take a painting class even if you are in computer science. Your bag of tricks should be varied. I was an English major, and I can calculate the distance from Earth to Proxima Centauri based on the wavelengths of light. Be a student of everything.
  16. In four years, you’ll feel the same way about college as you did about high school. Happy you did it. Thankful it is over. You will continue to be excited, happy, and thankful at all the different stages of your life.
  17. Don’t put deadlines on personal achievements. You never have to get married or have kids or have a specific job. Those things don’t follow timelines.
  18. Do put deadlines on learning new skills or studying abroad or evolving yourself. You control these things. You can make these things happen.
  19. You aren’t right. You aren’t wrong either. It’s not about understanding the opposite perspective, but the perspective in the middle. The world is full of gray areas. So much gray, you will learn that gray is not dreary. It is a connecting point. It is an intersection. People who look for intersections tend to be happier people.
  20. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean that it is bad. Like change.
  21. Happiness is not something you find. You have to make it. Like oatmeal.

If you can make oatmeal, you can make happiness. If you can endure change, you can make it through college and work and life. Congratulations on your graduations! Stay cool this summer.

Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.

About Dena Mellick

Dena Mellick is the Associate Editor of

View all posts by Dena Mellick

  • Maggie Worth

    So much love for this piece. We need to get you a global platform.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      30 pieces of underwear is the correct standard. I could not think of 30 pieces of advice. #fail Good thing I accept failure these days!

      • Maggie Worth

        But what about the knuckle days? Oughtn’t we to have 31?

        • Nicki Salcedo

          31 seems ridiculous.

  • Cortney Baker-Fitzhugh

    Beautiful advice Nikki! Love to see you sharing your fantastic wisdom 😉 Please say hi to the hubby and kids for me!

    • Nicki Salcedo

      Thanks for reading! HFTS. (Have fun this summer!)

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