You wouldn’t listen to this if I tried to cram it down your throat – you know everything, and everyone else is just not on the same plane as you. And yet, you’re reading this, because you’re nervous and you’re scared. Because it’s a big step, and big steps have always been scary. The unknown is terrifying to you. You’re reading all the college experience books you have. You’re trying to imagine what it’ll be like. And it’s not going to be what you think. It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be life-changing, and it’s going to be defining. You’re becoming yourself through college. That’s what it’s about.
You’ll have a roommate. You’ll hate her. It’s not because she’ll be particularly awful, though the cattiness in the dorms will probably contribute to your impression of her. It’s because you’re introverted and have never shared a room before. You’ll lie awake at night, waiting for her to fall asleep, your furniture arranged in a solid wall down the middle of the room, and wish yourself a million miles away. You’ll rejoice when she goes home for the weekend, knowing you can listen to whatever music you want, knowing you can move and dream and sing at the top of your lungs. You’ll sit out on the tiny balcony off your shared room and feel the breeze, in and out, whistling around that ugly iconic tower in the middle of campus, and it’ll feel right, until she comes back and you have to tiptoe around again.
This won’t make you bitter. This will make you more willing to see others’ points of view. This will make you easier to get along with, less selfish. You’ll still refer to her as “the ogress” to your giggling friends in the cool boho residential village down at the other end of campus, but inside, you’ll know she really wasn’t so bad. It’s you, always you, much more than it will be her.
You’ll stop being the smartest in your class and be one of about 40 smartest-in-their-classes that will receive their first D on an essay the same time you will. And it’ll suck, but you’ll learn that flowery language and ill-referenced points do not an essay make. At the end of the term, you’ll be writing strong, grade-A essays that you’ll carry with you into your second and third years, until you decide that traditional university isn’t for you, and you’ll go to a vocational college instead. More on that later. I promise, you’ll want to hear it.
You’ll never be considered pretty. It’s okay. You were never considered pretty before. You’ll go through a goth stage with plum-coloured hair and all-black flowy clothes and you’ll feel pretty, anyway, especially when the goth guy at the hole-in-the-wall bar looks you up and down and gives you a shy smile. Because high school romance isn’t always the real thing, and neither is college romance in many cases, but both help you determine how you want romance to be in the future. You might kiss a few shy guys who will also never see themselves as desirable and they’ll be stolen, precious moments, the ones that you’ll miss when you’re in a difficult relationship and feel a lot of pain that you think is probably love. Maybe it’s love, and maybe it’s not, but these experiences are important. Smile back, hold your head high, remember what you want and don’t get talked into anything. If you want to go for it, go for it. You already know what you want, deep inside. You just need the confidence to act on it.
You’ll read at coffee-house poetry readings, your tentative voice growing stronger when you realize that maybe you do have talent. You’ll learn Latin, turning the words over in your mouth, feeling a thrill at recognizing grammar and declensions in every day English as a result. You’ll spend your 7 o’clock Prehistoric Germany class spellbound by the cantankerous teacher’s beautiful slides and be surprised when you become his favourite student. You’ll learn Russian, haltingly reading from children’s books while your best friend tries to guide you through the strange words. You’ll discover that astronomy is the class for arts students because it has that element of mystery and mythology to it, but that it’s actually a really hard physics course that you’ll pass by the skin of your teeth.
And you’ll dream. Dream on the campus lawn, lying with one of those art-bar guys, staring at the stars on a blanket in the middle of the field. Dream as you push the limits of your voice, listening to the music room ring with everyone’s song during choir classes. Dream as you write half of a novel, the best novel you’ve ever read, and then five years later realize that it’s not really that good after all, but you needed to write it anyway just to learn what it is to play with emotion and description, to write someone else’s story. You’ll paste pictures into albums and cry in the shower and fall asleep with earphones in while you’re half-drunk on tequila after a hard night of studying. It’s going to be a jumble of fear and wonder at your first exam, at starting to journal and chat online, at realizing that the friends you make in college are ones that will last your whole life.
You’ll lose your childhood dog and realize that you can never go back to simpler times. There’s no going back now. You’ll visit home and realize the limitations of the small town you grew up in so much more than you ever have before. It’s stopped being a pretend “I want to get out of here” and starts to be for real. You start to wonder if the degree you’ve chosen is the right one. You’ll learn later that it’s not, but this is the foundation of making your own decisions autonomously from your parents. You’re in the driver’s seat and it’s hard. You’ll fuck up big. It’s okay. It gets so much better.
You can’t see past the hard stuff right now. You can’t imagine the nights of pain and depression, the three times you try to take your own life, the worried RAs and friends and your parents, on the outside and desperately trying to look in. That’s good. Those are the nights you’ll learn just how strong you are. That not-pretty face, that hurt soul, it holds a core of steel – steel that will carry you through three layoffs and a few heartbreaks and people leaving and entering your life. And one night, you’ll decide that giving up isn’t going to solve anything. You change your path. You become a writer, more than a storyteller and more than an idle spinner of pretty words. You harness the power of your own voice and turn your face towards success.
And if I could wish anything for you, it’s that despite all of this, you realize that you’re worth something long before you have to realize it at the other end of depression. That your friends are there for you. That your parents, trying to scrabble their way in, are really rooting for you, whatever you think. 19, you’re not a wise person. And that’s okay. Because you’re only 19. How can you know what wisdom is? No one ever expected you to have it figured out. No one ever expected you not to make mistakes. And it’s okay to be hurt and scared inside. Your bravado may have taught you the importance of keeping up appearances, but when you let your guard down, that’s when you realized just who was in your corner.
Don’t be scared. There’s no reason to be scared. It’s just another segment of life, just more learning experiences. You’re smart enough to know what they’re worth. You’re smart enough to know that it gets better. And if you can’t see it, just remember – this too, shall pass. And you’re so loved. You’re so very loved.
I’ll see you on the flip side.
This blog post was inspired by a theme by A Boles Undertaking. I’m not participating in her blog series about college, but I did want to write my own letter to my freshman self.
- Dear Freshie, (themandother.wordpress.com)
- 39 Crucial Pieces Of Advice For College Freshmen (thoughtcatalog.com)
- To the Parents of a College Freshman: An Open Letter From Their Chaplain (jeremiahgibbs.com)