Freshman. noun. According to the all-knowing Dictionary.com, “A student in the first year of the course at a university, college, or high school; a novice or beginner.”
In a few days I will begin my junior year of college.
How did that happen?
Most days I still feel like the uncertain freshman who’s getting her bearings amidst life’s topsy-turvy. I still look the same as that girl, the one who toted picture frames and fuzzy blankets and turquoise cups into her dorm room for first time. We’re both rather tall and very blonde and slightly sunburnt. Sometimes we act the same, too. We get our homework done and read books for fun and like things organized and understood.
But as I look back on the past two years, there’s a lot that’s different about me, too. I’ve done new things, like play college basketball, comprehend Chinese, attempt to give speeches, write lesson plans, and take on the roles of TA and Orientation Leader. I’ve felt tearfully homesick and overwhelmingly stressed and hopelessly weary. I’ve been grateful and joyful and swept up in love and peace and grace.
You learn a lot more than textbook facts at college.
And for the dear freshmen entering the fray for the first time, I know that going into college can be exhilarating and anxiety-ridden and joyful and terrifying in the same breath. I know independence looks freeing and fascinating and frightening. I know it’s bittersweet to leave behind the comfy familiar and dive into something completely foreign. And I know this whole thing might feel a bit out of control. (And most days, it kind of is.) But you aren’t in this alone. I’ve done the freshman thing. So have lots of people. And we can look back and pass on what we’ve learned, what we hope you’ll learn. So, to the sweet ones heading out into this brand-new world, here is my heart for you.
I hope that you will try stuff. Even the stuff that’s scary. Especially the stuff that’s scary. Try out for the team even if you don’t think you’re good enough. Join the club even if people back home might think it’s lame. Stick with the class even if the syllabus is intimidating. Jump into the Ultimate Frisbee game on the campus green even though you don’t know anyone playing. Dive into every single opportunity that you can.
I hope that you will meet lots of people, and that while doing so you will remain kind and open and authentic, looking for what you can give rather than what you can be given. I also hope that while meeting people, you will not be frustrated when everyone else has someone to sit with at lunch and you haven’t found your people yet. It takes time. You are not hopelessly awkward and annoying and unlovable, so give yourself some grace and take a hearty helping of patience for good measure.
I hope that you will give your roommates a chance, that you will remain flexible and patient even if they have quirky personalities and are not exactly like you and do not put on the toilet paper the right way.
I hope that you will transform your stark dorm into an actual home, surrounding yourself with beauty and comfort and joy. (You’re going to need it after long days in lecture halls.) Post pictures of family or sunsets or Audrey Hepburn or whatever makes you happy. Hang Christmas lights and flip on floor lamps so you don’t rely on nasty fluorescent overheads. Cozy up with blankets and excessive numbers of pillows. Create a space where you can breathe.
I hope that you will call your mom. On a regular basis. Because otherwise she might believe that you have been kidnapped. And also because she cares about you and still wants to be part of your life.
I hope that you will not buy into the comparison game. It’s one that you will not win, for the girl in 8:00 Comp will always wear more Pin-worthy outfits and the boy in the front row will always have better answers and the person lapping you at the track will always run faster. You are not them. Do not try to be them.
I hope that you will not fend off starvation solely with ramen or see sleepiness as nothing more than a call for more coffee. Eat vegetables. Get sleep. Visit the free fitness center every once in a while. Take care of your body. After all, you’re kind of stuck with it.
I hope that you will know that regardless of what happens, it’s going to be okay. Really. It may be two in morning and the paper may be due in your first class and the boy might not have realized you exist yet and you may want to cry or throw up or move back home. But you will make it. Really. No matter what you’re going through, it’s going to be okay.
This post is fondly dedicated to the college freshmen in my life, from my little sister who’s joining me at Northwestern this fall to my friends from work and school and church to the lovely ladies who will be moving into my hall in a few days. Blessings on your new adventure!