Dear Bridget: Advice for Freshman Year

Dear Bridget,

Your dorm at IU buds with promise and ghosts of bad decisions past.   You’ve arrived at the nexus of adolescence and adulthood that is college.  If you thought Saved by the Bell: The College Years was your survival guide.  You are mistaken.  As your big sister, you know I am an atlas of mistakes, a thesaurus of whoops, a reference point on living your messy misguided life.  I’ve never shielded you from unkempt things.  College is no different.

Bridget, if ever a body housed more life than it knew what to do with, it’s yours.  I knew love could be a tangible thing the first time I held you in my arms.  My six years of life had been one consistent prayer for your existence, and there you were– seven immaculate pounds of prayer.

You are smart and beautiful and silly.  Stay silly because, honestly, life is hard and you need to laugh if you want to enjoy it.  You have all the tools to thrive inside you– they shine with sharp blades.  Here’s a tool guide in case you need it.  People say that life is yours for the taking.  I don’t buy that.  Life doesn’t present you with platters of options.  You receive scraps and make masterpieces from minuscule clues.  Life’s yours for the making so:

  • Rather than wondering if you’re enough, ask “why not me?”
  • Fail spectacularly.  Make poor decisions– notice that I’m not saying harmful decisions. I’m not saying intentionally bad decisions.  I’m haven’t even written reckless decisions. But I’m telling you not to be a lady.  Don’t live your life in a perfect glass box where no one can reach you.  Be messy and know it is a byproduct of living in a messy world.
  • Learn what you like.  Learn what you want.  Trudge through life with your truth.  It will make your gait less boxy.  It’s easier for your body to breathe and move without so much weight on your mind.
  • Invest in a quality pair of rain boots and umbrella.
  • Go to class.  The Professor is more merciful to familiar faces.
  • Say the thing you’re scared to say.  No one is a mind reader.  You advocate for yourself best when you speak your truths.  They are there.  Your truths linger on the lip of your tongue in the endless hope you’ll grant then enough oxygen to exist.
  • Wear shorts under your dress.
  • If you’re in legal trouble, call me before you call Dad.
  • You are worthy now.  Not when you get your degree, not when that boy likes you, not when you get into that club or ascend to an officer position.  Do not waste another second of your life awaiting approval from anyone other than you.  Show up.  Speak up.  Take a seat at the table, and quit saying “I’m sorry”.  Life wants you to attend not to apologize.
  • Go Deep.  Go all in.  This is your one time to experience this phase of your life so do it face-first.
  • Say no.  Say no to obligations you aren’t interested in, to dates you don’t want to go on, to things you feel a “yes” coming out as a social reflex for other people to like you.  Knowing you, you will spread yourself too thin.  You’ll take on so much that two hands aren’t enough to hold it all.  Then, life will force you to let go.  It’s ok to let go.  It’s ok to quit.  I would rather you be a healthy quitter than an exhausted non-quitter.
  • You are your own advocate.  Always and unconditionally.
  • Screw cool.  Screw pretty.  Gained the freshman 15 off of Natty Light and hot dogs?  You’ll probably lose it, and even if you don’t, maybe the world just needed more of you.  Don’t waste the wonderous capacity of your brain on petty thoughts like cool and pretty.  You belong.  You’re fierce.  Waste your worries on how you’ll finance a study abroad trip or something juicy like that.
  • It’s better to be the hardest worker than the smartest team member.  Effort runs laps around intellect.
  • Always ask if they have a student discount.  I don’t care if it’s the BMV.  Ask.
  • Ask for help.
  • Belonging is not earned.  It is found.
  • You are young, and you don’t know it all.  You never will.  The goal is not to know everything but to be curious enough to always ask one more question.
  • This thing called college doesn’t have to be perfect.  It doesn’t have to look or feel like what you think it’s supposed to.  You can change majors.  You can break up with and get back together with the people you date.  You can try on all the hats before you find your fit.  Our lives rarely form in the fashion of our dreams.  That’s ok.  It will be ok.  You will be ok.  I promise.

Bridget, you watched me on my move-in day as I sat on the verge of tears.  I called mom that night, and said, “I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life in coming here”.  Three weeks later, I found myself happier than I have ever been.  Don’t believe my college highlight reel.  Don’t allow all my breathtaking highs to deceive you into thinking I ever had to together in those four years.  Lest we forget:

  • I fell face-first on the Oval my second day of college.
  • I showed up late to my first class because I got lost.
  • I was sexually assaulted during my freshman year of college.
  • I drank wayyyy too much Bacardi sophomore year, and I threw up a whole chicken wing mid-make-out with a guy on a beanbag chair, and he kept kissing me after that. Ew.
  • I didn’t come home one Thanksgiving when things were tough.
  • I was sexually harassed at more than one college job and consistently harassed in the workplace from 19-22.
  • I got kicked off of an executive board in one of my student organizations.
  • I regularly had approximately 34 cents to my name the night before payday.
  • I once wore a shirt both backward and inside out to an exam.  I got an A on it.  I’m gonna live forever.

And still– I graduated Magna Cum Laude.  I studied abroad. I did service abroad. I met some of my best friends, watched Barack Obama speak, ate lunch with my university president on my nineteenth birthday. I gave a TEDx Talk.  I became an activist.  I fell in love with people and places and a state I always vowed I would leave.  Mentors guided me to opportunities, and even more so, to myself.   While I have no desire to recreate my undergraduate experience, I’m so grateful I had it.  I know you’ll be grateful for Indiana University.  I hope your life feels a little more like yours in the years to come.  I hope Bloomington feels like the first home you chose.   All of this is yours for the making, my love.


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