Hello freshman Laura,
If you’re anything like I remember, right now you’re sitting on the Brown Hall sun porch, contemplating whether or not to study for your psych test. It is this moment in which I will offer you my first piece of advice: stop right now. Don’t bother. Nezlek’s tests are hard no matter what, and you’re going to get a C in the class. It’s 3 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Go find your best friend, take a walk down DOG street and around all of the prettiest parts of campus, because three years from now you’ll be living in the glamorous Randolph complex on the opposite end of campus, and you will wish you had done that more often.
The most important thing to learn right away about college is that it isn’t high school. No one cares about your SAT scores. It is no longer a big deal that you were the president of 49 clubs, the captain of 86 teams, volunteered for 450 organizations, all while holding a part-time job and balancing a delightfully eclectic mix of quirky hobbies that included both crocheting and playing the pan flute. Leave that stuff at your parents’ mini-van’s door.
If you feel the impulse to dress up this weekend and go out to a party – go for it. Three years from now, you’ll want nothing more on any given Saturday than to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender with your best friends while drinking a mug of cheap wine and snuggling underneath a blanket with horses on it. Live life while you still have the will to do so.
If you get home from class tomorrow, accidentally nap through dinner, and wake up fifteen minutes before the dining hall closes – stop. Don’t rush to put on your shoes and find your ID. Open your refrigerator, reach to the very back of the bottom vegetable drawer, and you will find more edible food than you will at the Caf at 7:55 on any given night.
When those late nights seem endless, stop what you’re doing and take a hot shower. Sing the National Anthem very loudly. Run up and down the Sunken Garden. Except I know you better than that, so you’re going to walk instead, because running is something you just don’t do, like physics or waking up early. Take a break from the computer screen or the book, get some oxygen in your brain (is that how it works?), and I promise you’ll feel better and do better on whatever you’re working on when you return to it. Just remember: it is one test, in one class, in one semester, in one year of your entire life.
Also: The Cheese Shop has this raspberry cheesecake brownie. Get one every time you’re there.
Take pictures of the things that seem stupid now, because come senior year, you’ll be looking through them all during a party in your apartment, drunkenly nostalgic, and the fact that your laptop case has accumulated dozens of stickers when it used to be completely bare will make you cry the whitest white girl tears you’ve ever wept, but it will be entertaining and you’ll be glad you did it. Take pictures of your friends’ faces. Take pictures of your own face. Take pictures of every room you live in – the comforter on your bed, the posters on your walls. Take a picture of Williamsburg in every season. Of the inside of your favorite academic building. Even your least favorite, so you can gawk at them years later and wonder how you ever survived (sorry, Jones). Take pictures you won’t be able to find on William & Mary’s website. Those pictures will be the crisp artifacts of your memory long after your memory has faded, and you will cherish them for as long as they exist.
You are going to meet a lot of people over the next few years. Forget the ones who jokingly remark that you hang around the Terrace too often to be a real person with actual responsibilities. To those people you’ll need to say, “please shut up,” and carry on as you were. But there will be a couple of people you’ll need to remember. And more than just remember them, you need to be loyal to them. Loyalty, as you’ll need to learn over the next four years, is just about the most important thing there is. You’ll make some pretty close friends over the next few years, and you’ll be closer to them than you could have ever imagined. But inevitably, your hilarious, passionate, and deeply intelligent best friends will be idiots every now and again, and they’ll make mistakes, make you mad, and make life difficult for themselves and for you. Listen to me very closely: you need to forgive them, and you need to stand by them. You’re going to be lucky enough that you’ll become friends with people who are decent and good to the core, whose morals and life philosophies you’ll respect even when they’re not shared. Remember that about these friends, come hell or high water, because people will always remember who sticks around when things are hard.
Ignore the scrutiny of those who don’t know you, but accept and digest that from those who do. (Related: Mom is right. Mom will always be right.) Be grateful to those who go out of their way to tell you things that are hard to hear; chances are, those things are just as hard for the other person to say. “I’m telling you because I love you,” will never be a tired cliché.
I’ll be honest with you, Laura – I wrote this letter over a couple of weeks, small paragraphs at a time, reorganizing and rewriting sections every time I opened my computer. That is one habit of yours that has not changed, and I don’t know this for sure yet, but I’m predicting now that it might never change. Your best writing will almost always annoyingly emerge toward the very end of your wits, pompously skirting too close to its deadline, and that emergence will occur at the inconvenient hour of very, very early in the morning – like, hour three or four of the day. William & Mary will teach you how to write fantastic papers in your English classes, a proof or two in calculus that you will quickly forget, and even some stuff about rocks and the earth or whatever when you’re forced to take geology. But William & Mary will not teach you how to change yourself. You will be teased this year for always working in the common areas of your dorm and never working in your room, even though you find that it works better for you. People will stare at you in shock and concern when you tell them you haven’t started your five-page paper that’s due in twenty-four hours. Just a warning – these looks and remarks will cause you to become terribly insecure. You’ll very soon begin to wonder why you didn’t read more classic literature in high school, and regret not studying more for your SATs when you could have. You’ll feel this way for a while. Sure, go ahead – question the admission committee. What did they see in you? Why are you here? But I’ll tell you right now that your GPA means nothing. At the end of your life, your eulogy (ideally sung aloud by Michael Bublé and Beyoncé together in harmony) will not consist of scores and stats and numbers. You’re a lot smarter than your grades will try to tell you, and there’s more that you have going for you that cannot be measured by grades at all. Never confuse education with intelligence.
It will take you twenty one and a half years, a lot of tears, and a few unfortunate missteps for you to finally realize your true worth as a human being: as a friend to your friends, a sister to your siblings, a daughter to your parents. That moment will come at a time not uncommon to most other profundities – in the wake of tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal. It’ll be one of those strange feelings that hurts yet feels beautiful and liberating at the same time, like an expensive massage or chocolate with spicy peppers in it.
No matter what, don’t try to change who you are. Don’t even work around it. Work with it. Understand yourself, accept yourself. You won’t be able to move forward – or graduate – any other way. And you’re going to want to graduate eventually, I promise.
Green and gold 4evr,
P.S. Next year, your little sister will also attend William & Mary. Never lend her any of your clothes. She will live on the opposite side of campus. You will never get them back.