I know your building has unreliable air conditioning. I know the chairs are wooden and hard. They dig into your spine and make you slouch awkwardly or sit ramrod straight. The floors are a questionable shade of what used to be blue (purple? green?) carpet. Your desks are the kind attached to the aforementioned chair, and they have years of grooves and bored handwriting carved into their surfaces.
I know you’re always being asked “What are you going to do with that?” People inquire about your choice of major with preconceived notions of usefulness. These people believe mirrors only reflect what they see. They disregard the possibility of alternate angles. I know it’s tiring to explain this, to grab the inquirer by the shoulders and slowly shift them left or right to reveal a wider world in the reflection. I watch you with admiration from the other side as you slowly expand the worlds of those around you. I know you see more.
I know you love what you study. I know you have a vision, even if it’s blurry, of the impact you want to have on your future. There is no simple, steady path for us. Our next 10 years won’t be marked by a consistent pattern of school or residency or formulaic jobs. It will be different every day for every one of us. This lack of predictability can be equally frightening and enticing. We have the power to build anything we want, and the vulnerability to watch it crumble with a gust of wind. I know despite this uncertainty, you choose to commit to your studies. You defend them in front of classmates and doubters. You defend them to yourself.
I know you’ve grown competent at hiding your anger and disappointment. I know you swallow your protests and your pride. You hide your accomplishments from those you perceive won’t celebrate them. You shield your struggles from those who weigh your boulders like pebbles. This balancing act is heavier than they will ever comprehend, and yet you carry the weight on your shoulders, ramrod straight in your graffitied wooden chair.
I know we joke about our position. Lack of recognition feeds humor like a river, flowing from a constant source and never weakening. We laugh. We don’t let the mouth of the river see our tears, adding to the flow downstream.
I know this letter is dramatic (but you loved it, didn’t you?). I know we often reserve our feelings for pieces like this. The irony in our academics is that our shortcomings and barriers and anger fuel incredible art. They make us stronger, more determined. The challenges we face prove the importance of our disciplines every single day.
And don’t worry… I know you know all of this already. But giving voice to our collective experiences grants them validity and builds community. I hope through this, you know that you’re seen and appreciated. I hope you know you’re not alone and that you matter.
I hope you know that I know you. I am you.
And we need you.