A letter to Jackie, the freshman:
Your freshman year crept up on you a lot faster than expected. You spent the summer in Europe, immersing yourself in Italian culture with the people you love. You indulged in the sweetest gelato, ate pizza every single day and visited locations you learned about in history classes (the Colosseum in Rome wins as your favorite location). Returning to this small, empty island without your closest friends to accompany you at school seems bleak. Extreme emotions overwhelm your being—you feel angry, drained, you wish you could run away to begin a new life. A life oriented by your own terms. The dream to start over consumes you, but that seems impossible due to your current situation. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. You don’t need to run away to create a new name for yourself. View yourself from a new perspective, realize your capabilities, embrace your worth. The next four years will bring rich, hearty, page-turning chapters.
It’s time for your story to unfold. Believe me, it’s a great one!
In high school, you were often silenced, trapped in a school where only a small few were ever allowed the chance to achieve. Often, you feel small, even stupid. Then, you graduated with a temporary sensation of freedom. The moment passed, and, once again, you felt stuck. When you stepped onto the St. John’s University campus, though, something changed within you. Suddenly, everything seemed possible. Your outlook on life shifted because this place you barely knew felt right. Run with that gut feeling. This school will grant you enormous opportunities. You don’t need to attend a university five hours away to reinvent yourself. You can attain it from your own backyard.
But you didn’t account for that, did you?
Your future consists of leadership positions, publications, internships and mentorships. The life lessons you learn here will stay with you forever. The hard times will follow the wonderful times, the sad times following the joyful ones. Every experience brings you one step closer to finding your purpose.
And now, from me to you, five tips to remember along the way:
1. Never stay quiet when a great idea pops into your mind.
Silence the voice in your head pestering you with poisonous thoughts. “Don’t talk in class today. You’ll sound stupid anyway.” Your thoughts hold meaning and importance. Being quiet will cause you to question your worth. If you begin to question the relevance of your ideas, write them in your notebook before you speak. This will help your thoughts become more cohesive. Also, it sometimes feels better to read with reference rather than spit out an idea cold turkey.
2. Don’t second guess yourself, especially in the classroom.
If you want to speak up, speak up! Your professors appreciate your contributions in discussions; your peers will applaud your dedication to the team. If you feel excited about a certain thought, share it with the class. You never know, it could be your next paper topic!
3. Your dreams will come true if you put in enough work to achieve them.
Set short-term goals for yourself; don’t let intrusive thoughts stop you from reaching for the stars. Leadership abilities remain a part of you. Start small, then try out for positions with more tasks and greater responsibilities—the capability to achieve lies in your hands.
4. Be respectful until someone disrespects you.
Unfortunately, many will take your kindness for naivete. Don’t let fear of being disliked stop you from standing up for yourself when wronged. Staying quiet in situations where people try to tear you down will eat away at you. It’s important for you to gain a backbone. Surprisingly enough, people will respect you more when you stand up to them.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others; it will do you no favors.
Don’t compare yourself to others; it will do you no favors. Be your own person. Appreciate other people’s work, but don’t lose yourself in trying to keep up with them. Validity remains at the heart of your work. If I’m completely honest, I still struggle with this today. As a graduate student (yes, you decide to work towards a master’s degree in English), I catch myself questioning my place in the program. Brilliant people surround me; am I good enough to be here? This semester, in particular, my goals consist of learning how to stop questioning myself. I’m in the program for a reason; I can do this.
Every day tell yourself: yes, I can and I will.
You need to allow room for change. You thrive on planning; plans you set for the future grant you comfort. Nine times out of ten, these plans will not proceed accordingly. That’s okay. Life needs room for change. You frequently tend to base your decisions on the validation that will come from others. I’m here to tell you that you cannot live life that way. The validation lasts temporarily. Before you make major life decisions, consider your feelings. If you don’t feel ready to jump into something you desperately want to do, wait for the right time. Rushing the important projects will tarnish the process along with the results.
You deserve a minute to breathe. Embodying positivity takes work, hard work. But, with practice, you will get there.
I hope this letter provides the guidance needed to complete your story. You have come a long way since high school. You met wonderful people who provided (and continue to provide) the utmost support. People root for you; they want to see you succeed, not fail. The fear of failure may overcome you, but you can’t allow that to shape your personality. My last bit of advice rests in understanding your worth. Don’t undermine your value. Your own worst enemy might sometimes be you. Just know your support system of friends, family and educators will help you every step of the way. Reach for the stars; they’re waiting for you to grab them.