February 23, 2024

A letter to past self, Dear Beginning-of-college-me

So, here you are. It’s your first couple of weeks of college. I remember it all pretty well—all the orientation events and new classes. I mean, I am you, just many years later, and this is formative stuff you’re going through, so I ought to remember. The campus seemed so new and huge, like there was no way to make it from one class to the other without getting lost or, at least, being late. It was overwhelming and scary. So, yeah, I know how you’re feeling.

You won’t forget the scary stuff—remembering so many names and classes and carrying so many books. You know a few people from high school, but it feels like you’re starting over with all that social stuff. That’s okay—we both know you weren’t that great at that stuff in high school anyway. But you’ll remember the good things too—the profs are interesting, the campus is big, sure, but beautiful. The library has more books than you could ever imagine (and I know how many you can imagine). Here’s something you won’t be surprised by: you’re going to spend a lot of time in that library.

You’re also going to spend a lot of time stressing out about your math classes. No surprise there, right? You and I both know your major (and you already know you’re not changing it), so when you get through the first few semesters of math and science, it’s all English lit all the time. But we both know getting through those classes won’t be easy. And wait until you take French later. That’ll be the worst.

So, am I here to tell you how to make sure you don’t get overwhelmed by all this? That you know exactly how to organize your days and nights? That you know all the routes around campus so you’re never late? That you figure out your schedule so you never take an 8 A.M. Victorian Poetry class taught by a guy with the most monotone voice imaginable? Tell you where on campus is the best place to take a midday nap? Tell you how to make sure you don’t get lost?

Not really. You’ll get overwhelmed at times–having to figure out things on your own is a new challenge, one that high school didn’t really prepare you for. You might think it’s all too much and that the overwhelm is going to consume you. It won’t. You will learn the things you need to learn. Obviously, you’re in college—you know you’re going to learn a lot, but I’m not talking about the color of the woman’s hair in Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” (it’s “raven,” and you’ll need to know that for one of Prof. Weinstein’s quizzes in his British Romanticism class—okay, I guess I’ll tell you that much). How you get around campus and manage your schedule—and doing it on your own—is as vital a skill as a lot of the school stuff you’ll learn (and, oh yeah, you’ll learn a lot of that, too). You will learn how to balance school with work and a social life and all that—and you’re going to do it on your own.

And it’s a lot. Sometimes, you’re going to crash during the day when you’re supposed to be studying and you’d rather take a nap than read another page of your Psychology 101 textbook (okay, fine, I’ll tell you this one too—there’s rarely anyone on the bottom floor of the library and there are some pretty comfortable couches down there. Go forth and nap). That math class you’re taking now that seems easy? That’s because you’re finally gaining the confidence that was hard to come by in high school. Your math and science classes will get a little harder, but you’ll work and learn and figure it out. That’s not to say it will all be easy—there will be a D- that makes its way on your transcript. But when that happens (and I won’t spill any details because the experience is important), it’s a grade you probably worked harder for than an A in any English class.

So this is a time of change—and you’re more ready than you realize. When you were sitting in that giant auditorium a couple of weeks ago and listening to all these speakers talk about how great college is going to be, you were skeptical. But this is where you need to be. The next couple of years will be challenging, both in ways that are both wonderful and not so wonderful. There are people around you that won’t be here by the time I’m writing you this. Love where you are and who you are with. So, value all of your people and your moments. Others will pick you up when you don’t believe in yourself (and that will happen). You haven’t even met some of these people yet. But they’re looking out for you—and you need to look out for them, too.

I bet you’re wondering what I’m like and what I’m up to as I write this. I shouldn’t give too much away because this is your life and navigating it is up to you. But I am writing this letter to you in my office in a university building where I’m about to teach a college English class. So, without giving away too much, you’re on the right path. And sometimes, that path will be hard, but it isn’t impossible. Keep traveling and keep learning. Because one day, you’ll get to be the one to write this letter.