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Life Lessons from Link Crew

My son is starting this week as a freshman at Mt. Lebanon High School.

I fully expect that I, too, will be learning a lot.

I learned a few things before the school year even started.

I learned that every Lebo freshman gets connected to a junior or senior who is part of the Link Crew, a national program adopted here in 2013 to provide student mentors to all the newbies for their start at high school and their entire first year. How cool is that?

One very polite young man, Andrew, left a phone message to remind my son, Jesse, of the half-day student orientation session, noting how much he was looking forward to meeting him.

Jesse came home having met him and other Crew members and carrying a yellow sheet of paper titled, “Link Crew: 17 Things That Every Freshman Should Know.”

I was even more impressed. These tips, which MTLSD guidance counselor and local Crew co-founder and now coordinator Shelly Saba says all come from these student leaders over the years, are full of very practical advice about how to survive the sprawling campus’ crowded stairwells and random “freezing” classrooms. They cover everything from how to find a seat at lunch (“don’t be scared to ask people if you can join them”) to how not to embarrass yourself with public displays of affection (“no one likes to see PDA in the halls”).

Reading over them, it struck me that many of these tips are applicable beyond the halls of high school and Mt. Lebanon.

Link Crew has good advice for anyone facing or open to a new chapter or fresh start—for anyone who wants to really learn and live.

Take No. 10: “Be kind to your teachers.” If you think of your teachers more broadly than school teachers—work mentors, coaches, clergy—it is indeed good to establish a good relationship and connect with them. “Don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Take advantage of extra help opportunities they offer.” Same with your counselor—be that a professional or a confidant—covered in No. 11.

No. 12 advises, “Step out of your comfort zone. Talk to new people. Be open-minded to new people, new teachers, and new friends. Align yourself with others that you can see being realistically successful.” I like that turn of phrase. “Surround yourself with people that challenge you mentally, physically, etc. You will be better for it.” And here’s one I’ve learned much later in life: “Your friends may change, and that’s ok.”

No. 14 builds on that by encouraging people, “Get out of the bubble” and into what is a very big world out there. No. 13 is describing high school but it could be talking about life being “what you make it. Have fun. Get involved,” because it is in those activities about which you’re passionate that you’ll make your best friends and accomplish group goals.

Grades come up several times, but in ways that seem A+ to me. While they should be taken seriously (tip No. 1), “You are not your grades,” counsels No. 15. “Failure is an event, never a person. The year is a marathon, not a sprint; it is ok if you mess up a test or homework assignment. You can bounce back” (emphasis mine).

How wise are these upperclassmen. As No. 16 reminds, they “were all freshmen once.”

I hope my freshman will be part of the Link Crew some day. In the meantime, in a world that too often is lacking in such communication and empathy, I can see riffing on these to provide helpful tip sheets to new employees or volunteers or members of teams and other groups, to ease the uncertainty and worse that can come with being new. That has to be a lot easier when you have some people who tell you that they are there for, and very much looking forward to meeting, you.

“Just be you,” No. 17 concludes on a strong note. “You will be happiest when you are being your authentic self with your friends.”

And with that, you’re off, Mt. Lebanon High School Class of 2025. Be friends. Help each other. And do carry these “17 Things” with you.

The other side of that yellow sheet is a big blank page.

Bob Batz Jr. is the editor of the Sunday goodness section at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and lives in Sunset Hills. 

Photos courtesy of Mt. Lebanon High School.