My sister is currently finishing her senior year at the same high school I graduated from in 2018. She is crushing it, even in a pandemic: straight As, talented dancer, great friends, a scholarship to college, and the kind of self confidence I certainly did not possess at 18. However successful, she is itching to leave high school behind, and pretty much anyone in a 10 mile radius knows it. I know I was the same way at that point in my life: eager to shed my high school, my teachers, and my insecurities to come to college. While watching her navigate this important year, I reflected on what I wish I had known during that last semester before college. And since she is much too headstrong to take my advice, I’m putting it on record for myself, and for the memories of your younger selves too.
Dear Julia (2018),
The first thing you should know is that the world is so unbelievably big, and you have seen so little of it, but that is all going to change. When it does, it’s going to be kind of painful at first, because you will have to realize your own ignorance and make fundamental changes to your character. Don’t worry! Those changes are for the better.
With that being said, don’t harbor anger at the people who perpetuated that ignorance: the small-minded PTO moms and teachers that tried to teach you things you knew weren’t true. They have every right to live their lives the way they want, and you shouldn’t resent them for that. Nor should you resent the place you grew up and the community that raised you. No place is perfect. No person is perfect. And expecting perfection will only disappoint you. Instead, appreciate what they gave you because they made you who you are today, for better or for worse. And now you have the right to live your life the way you want. You can’t have wings without roots, not really.
Now onto those wings! I won’t repeat the hundreds of college clichés, just that this fresh start isn’t the only one you will get. One bad day, bad week, or even bad semester doesn’t ruin “the college experience” because that expression is stupid. Your college experience is whatever experience you choose to have and how you choose to spend those 4 years. Take chances, rush the sorority, join the club, apply for the job, kiss the boy, go to the party, or skip the party and make cookies, but try not to regret anything, not even the mistakes. And if something about “the experience” isn’t going the way you want, make an adjustment and try again, because these four years have so much potential.
Nobody wants to admit it, but moving away from home can be lonely sometimes, no matter how many good friends you make (and believe me, you will make some amazing friends). Don’t be embarrassed to want some time with your mom or your grandma. And make sure they know how much you love them. Only your family will drop everything for you, and you’ll soon learn that you’ll need people like that to get through some of the tough times.
When in doubt, look at the big picture. If it won’t matter in 10 years, it’s probably not worth worrying about for more than 10 minutes. Whether it’s your first heartbreak, your first love, your first C, or your third major switch, embrace every moment of the pain and the confusion and the excitement and the thrill of it all. And most importantly, buy a mask. There’s a pandemic coming.