The start of the fall semester is my favorite time of year. The residence halls are filled with students unpacking what they’ve brought from home, the lecture halls and libraries are humming, and the dining halls are buzzing as students reconnect with old friends and discover new ones.

So I want to welcome all of you, especially our newest students. I believe that you will find Binghamton to be a vibrant place that challenges you academically and provides a wide range of social and cultural opportunities. During your time here I’ll be your biggest fan and supporter, and will do everything I can to help you succeed.

Still, it would be naïve of me to believe that students, newly free of parental supervision, wouldn’t want to experience all that college life has to offer — and that sometimes “what college has to offer” includes things that are not sanctioned by the University. We understand that for some, the social life of the campus can involve an active nightlife centered on the establishments located downtown, even for those who are under 21. I note, for example, that the Pipe Dream’s guide for orientation suggested “scoping out the bars on State Street,” fully cognizant that most of our orientation attendees are under the legal drinking age.

My response is “Please don’t.” Excessive drinking, especially for those under age, diminishes the campus culture and can put individual students in real harm. Although our campus is a safe environment, excessive drinking, with all its potential problems — sickness, violence, vandalism, sexual assault and dangerous behavior — is perhaps the greatest challenge our campus health and safety officers face.

So I urge you to follow my wife Cathy’s advice to our children and her students: “make smart choices.” When she says this, she means making decisions that better the quality of life for yourself and for those around you. At Binghamton, this is a fundamental part of our strategic plan, which commits us to providing a “transformative learning community that prepares students for purposeful living.” I believe that purposeful living begins with making responsible choices that enhance and elevate our community — including how we socialize and entertain.

The freshman year is a time for growth and discovery. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities available to you. Join a student organization that takes you out of your comfort zone to broaden your perspectives and provide opportunities to develop your leadership skills. And yes, there will be times when you will be challenged — both in your academic work and in your social life. Don’t lose confidence; instead, seek out peers and mentors who can help you through your difficulties. Most of all, I hope that you will work hard and have fun. I’ll be watching you — and as your biggest fan, I’ll be cheering you on.