UT students offer words of wisdom

Juhie Modi

Seniors Austin Roth and Rory Tunningley don’t consider themselves professional advice-givers or fortune cookies. But that doesn’t stop them from giving their opinions anyway. 

Spread out on a yoga blanket every Friday in the Six Pack with a misspelled sign that reads “Free Advice,” they often give words of wisdom to students who stop by. Roth advises them to invest in their 401Ks. Tunningley advises them not to swim on a full stomach and to “drop out” because “college sucks.” 

“A lot of professional therapists cost upwards of $100 an hour,” Roth said. “We’re free. I don’t know if our advice is worth anything more than nothing.” 

Although Roth doesn’t consider Tunningley his best friend, in Myspace terms, he describes him as one of his Top 8. After various mid-afternoon coffees and Netflix bonding sessions, they became closer and the roots of the free advice idea took hold. They also got the idea from a man who gives free advice at White Rock Lake in Dallas.

“I knew it was funny and I knew it was stupid, so I didn’t care,” Tunningley said. “I’ve been known to do a lot of dumb things in my day, so I wasn’t particularly worried about sitting on a lawn with a sign. If someone thinks I’m an idiot, they’re more than welcome to think I’m an idiot.”

But Roth was nervous about advertising free advice because he didn’t know if students would think it was funny, stupid or egotistical.

“I didn’t know if people were going to think that we were just a bunch of douchebags, like ‘look at those guys who think they’re better than us, thinking they want to give us advice,’” Roth said. 

Freshman Ruby Martinez-Berrier said she was skeptical to approach Roth and Tunningley at first because she thought they were hippies. 20 minutes before class, she asked them if she should redo the Spanish homework she left at home and risk getting a bad grade, or if she should ask her professor if she could go pick it up. They advised her to redo it and she got full credit. 

“They were on top of their game and I thought it was impressive,” Martinez-Berrier said. “They were quirky and seemed like they were caring people [who] wanted to have a life experience.”

Roth claims that he and Tunningley are not enlightened — although Tunningley disagrees, describing himself as very wise with vast knowledge — but they just want to help people out. 

“I don’t really think I know much more than the average person. I just feel like if you’re going to ask your friends for advice, why not ask a stranger for advice?” Roth said. “Your friends aren’t probably going to know anything more than we do, on average.”

They recalled a time when one student came up just to tell them that he tried mushrooms for the first time and his perspective on life changed. 

“We needed to ask him for advice then,” Tunningley said.

Students ask for advice about relationships and academics, but they also stop by to vent or chat about what they’re doing.  

“One girl came up, and I don’t know what she ultimately wanted advice on, but she said in the course of four days she had gotten a concussion, tricked into smoking pot, got way too drunk, and then studied 15 hours for a test, and then during the test she just vomited everywhere and had to leave in the middle of the test,” Roth said. “So she said ‘What do I do?’ and I said, ‘Go to sleep! Go home, leave, and stop vomiting all over the place.’”

Roth thinks the reason that people, like this girl, come up to them is because they withhold judgment and are easy to avoid if people never want to see them again. 

“I don’t really remember that girl’s name,” Roth said. “If she came up to me again, I’d say ‘Hey, you’re the one who puked in the bushes’ but she’s not really a close friend of mine. She’s not in the Top 8. I’ll help her out as much as she needs, but in the end, she just walked away and I’ll never see her again. That’s kind of cool. Just being able to talk to someone and never see them again.”

Published on March 20, 2013 as "UT duo offers offbeat advice".