As a sophomore in college beginning the spring semester, I wanted to write something to ring in the new year. The past year has been a pivotal time in many people’s lives, and I wanted to highlight that in this letter that I wrote to my freshman year self:
I wanted to start by saying a big congratulations on making it this far in your college career! At this point, you’ve finished up your first semester of college. Starting out a new chapter of your life in a new town is daunting but exciting, but you did it. You’ve fought tooth and nail to get this far and pave your own journey into the vast world beyond the dimly lit streets of the sleepy small town where you spent your high school days. Not many people back home understand why you needed to work this hard to this point, but that’s okay. You’ve made it, and that’s what matters.
The first lesson that you will be reminded of in the coming months is that the future is not set in stone. This reminder will hit hard because in the coming months, your perceptions of college and where you stand in life will be flipped upside down. Back in high school, it was bad enough that some of your ambitions were thrown in the dirt and spat on by others, forcing you to change your course in life. This time, there is another sudden change of plans: when your family drives to Morgantown to pick you up for spring break, that will be your last day on campus as a freshman at WVU. Packing lightly for the break quickly turns into packing up your entire dorm for the last time, all while 2 exams and a warning of a strange new virus loom over your head. It becomes another time when you are ripped away without saying goodbye to the awesome people you’ve met, the friends you’ve made and even the nice lady in the dining hall that greets you every morning before chemistry. Your last month of high school was bad enough that you had to leave with no goodbyes, but this one will hit harder. But you know what? This period of your life will bring good things as well. Take this time to truly reflect on yourself and your future goals. You don’t have to know specific details, but if you have a few goals in mind that show the direction you want to take, then go for it. Your life has been so busy up to this point; do you know what you truly want in life? You will definitely have the time to think about it in the coming year.
Another thing you’ll learn is that you will grow to be comfortable with being alone. In college there’s a lot of pressure to constantly be around people and find friends that define your meaning of home. This pressure is everywhere— in the media, in those coming-of-age movies you watch, even with the people that surround you on campus. It will be difficult. I will admit, you spent much of your time alone back at home, and there isn’t anyone to turn to for support when you do come home. You intended to start that in your new life here when you arrived as a freshman, and it’s disappointing to face the music where no one else wants to listen to you. With this lesson, note that actions will always speak louder than words. There will be people who claim that you’re an amazing person and say you’re fun to be around, but they will never put in the effort to spend time with you and care about how your day went. From their perspective, there will always be people “better” than you, and you should stop wasting your time. However, don’t be discouraged by this. You can continue to make small talk while hiding your shaking hands in your pockets, so don’t stop that part. There will be other opportunities to find people to connect with, but if that connection never happens, just know that it’s okay to explore places by yourself. In some cases, it’s even more exciting to explore a new place the way you want to visit it, since you can choose where you want to go. Coming back to campus sophomore year of college will be difficult in its own unique way, but you’ll get the opportunity to explore some awesome places. Sometimes, you are your best travel companion, and you will always know what is best for you.
I will admit, one thing you’ll find in college is that it’s easy to get discouraged. Nobody said that college was going to be easy academically, but that won’t be the only place where you’ll find obstacles blocking your way. Take breaks when you can. Engineering is not an easy major, and environmental engineering has very few people pursuing it with similar goals and passions. It’s a very niche discipline, and you’ll be one of very few people studying it for the reasons you chose it— to address environmental issues in a scientific way and a more practical manner. It’s always been your passion to help people and reach out to the community. Many of your peers will scoff at it, and you will face many pressures to change your major in college. Many will not take your major seriously and will lump you in with your construction-focused civil engineering classmates, but there will be people who find it admirable and want to learn more about your path. Keep your head up; this is totally normal! You’ll have a few setbacks, but you will make it through. You’re doing amazing, and hopefully one day you will meet the other few environmental engineering majors out there on the WVU campus. Maybe you’ll even find friends with other majors at WVU who will support you and cheer you on. It’s always interesting to learn from them and support them, all while pushing forward in your own path.
You’re going to be introduced to a lot of twists and turns in college, and you should definitely expect the unexpected. No, you won’t be doing any Instagram photoshoots with friends anytime soon or having any fun tailgates at football games, but you are going to grow in ways that will surprise you. Go with the flow, live in the present and continue to work to become the person that you want to be.