To My Sister

Dear Katie,

Today was our last day together of life as you know it, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this next chapter of your life. Tomorrow, we’ll pack up my truck and embark on our next two years together at school. When I think about my freshman year, a lot of feelings are stirred up. A quiet anger, a subtle sadness, a bit of regret…and a really strange fondness?? You know better than anyone that my freshman year was a shit storm, but that doesn’t have to be your story. Looking back, there are so many things about my freshman year that I wish I could change, but if I had the opportunity to, I wouldn’t change them. I learned so much about myself about other people. Whether your freshman year is a fairytale or a nightmare, you’re going to grow and change in ways you never would have expected. It may be radical change or it may happen gradually over time, but when it suddenly hits you that you’re halfway through your undergraduate journey like I am, you’ll look back on the inevitably awkward day that is move-in day and laugh about how much you’ve changed since then.

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when I listened to your classmates give their speeches at graduation. It’s funny because I auditioned to be the Speaker at Large my senior year and the speech I wrote was filled with the same clichés and colloquialisms that I heard on your graduation day. I thought I was being really clever and creative with my parting wisdom, but the truth was I had no freaking clue what I was saying. Since I was in the same boat as all of my classmates, who was I to get up on stage and give them advice on how to move forward? I was just trying to echo what I had heard on graduation speeches that I watched on YouTube. (Thank goodness I wasn’t picked).

The truth is, no amount of preparation can truly ready you to go off to college. You can soak up all of the advice from family members, watch movies, read blog posts, creep on all of your new classmates on social media, blah blah blah, but it’s an entirely different experience for everyone. That’s why it’s so exciting. You and I both grew up listening to mom RAVE about Miami and what an amazing magical time she had. She talked about it so much that neither of us even wanted to go there. 

“I met my roommate at orientation and we became best friends. Then we met all of our other friends on our floor in Scott Hall and we were sooooooo close!! We lived together all four years and it was sooooOOOOOOOOOoooooOOOOOOOO much fun!!!!! Scott Hall to McCracken to Hut Hut!!!!!! Miami is just so amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” 

And that’s just what we heard from mom. Let’s not forget Uncle Joe went to Miami too.

“Dude, Miami is so sick. Have you ever had Skyline Chili late night?? Dude, it’s the best thing ever. Or after the bars close everyone just goes and parties outside of Skippers and Bagel and Deli. It’s the sickest place on earth dude I would do anything to go back.”

Pretty high expectations, huh??

Having had an extremely non-traditional college experience, I can tell you this for sure…your freshman year doesn’t have to be picture perfect like Mom’s or Uncle Joe’s. It doesn’t have to be really messy and complicated like mine. It is going to be totally unique and special and filled with twists and turns and ups and downs and entirely what you make of it. 

Since I have been a freshman twice now – once as an actual freshman and once as a transfer student which is basically a glorified freshman – I feel a bit more qualified to pass on some of my wisdom to you. Hopefully it’s a little more useful than the recycled advice you’ve heard at every family dinner since we were old enough to start thinking about college.

  1. Take care of your health. Without it, everything else falls apart. This is something I have been trying to get a handle on ever since I’ve been able to take care of myself, and boy, does college make it a bajillion times harder. Late nights are inevitable whether they’re spent studying or partying. Healthy food in Oxford is a commodity. And why exercise when you can spend that time doing something productive, you know, like watching Netflix when you should be studying?? Here is one thing I can guarantee. You’re going to get sick freshman year. Probably really sick (although I don’t wish it on you). It’s your first time being exposed to so many people’s germs all in one place. I had strep throat like 3 times in 2 months freshman year, and I had never had strep before in my life. Do your immune system (and your mind, body, and literally every aspect of your life) a favor and treat it well. Figure out some dining hall hacks and try to eat well as often as you can. A gym membership is literally part of your tuition, so take advantage of it (plus ummm come to my yoga classes??) Don’t spend too much time studying for your own sanity, and don’t spend too much time partying for your own good. You cannot put your best self forward in the classroom or on the social scene or in any other space you fill if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
  2. It may take you all four years of school to figure out how to do this, but learning how to balance school and life is so so so so important. When you talk to adults about college, all they want to talk about is the academics. They want to know what classes you’re taking, what your major is, what your schedule is like. When you talk to people your own age about college, all they want to talk about is the party scene. Do you go to bars or house parties? What are the good fraternities? How many nights a week do you go out? SURPRISE! They’re both a part of going to school and sometimes juggling them seems next to impossible. It’s always my luck that I have an exam in every class on a Friday and a really fun social on a Thursday night. That happened to me so many times this semester. There is a way to do it all (or most of it) and it’s called prioritizing. Get yourself a good planner and get your shit figured out. The truth is that school comes first, and that even if you have to skip out on a party or social for the sake of an 8am exam, the world isn’t going to suddenly explode. But you also don’t need to sacrifice your social life. Figure out when it fits in to your schedule to go out and enjoy yourself, and then make it work. I also don’t mean just going to parties. Pencil in some girls nights or some alone time. Make time to do things that you enjoy and I promise you it will make handling the school work so much easier. 
  3. No matter how awkward it is, join a freaking club. My freshman year at SMU, they had an activities fair called Night at the Club where all of the clubs have tables out on the quad on the first night at school for you to explore. I’m sorry, but that is literally the worst planning ever. I chose to go out on my first night at school with my roommate and meet people (rightfully so), but that also came at the expense of taking the first steps to getting involved on campus. Granted, I could have explored different student organizations after Night at the Club, but I didn’t want to. I thought I was above it and that I didn’t need to get involved in a club. I got away with not being in a club in high school so I didn’t think I would need one in college. I was really wrong about that. College isn’t an incubator in the same way as high school was. You aren’t locked in a building for 7 hours with people you’ve known since elementary school with no choice but to make friends. You are totally completely on your own and you need to put yourself out there. Club fairs are freaking awkward and weird, but I promise you, getting involved in something other than school will serve you well.
  4. Your first friends probably won’t be your best friends. And that’s okay. It’s also totally awesome if they are. You and I both know it worked out that way for mom. But, that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed, and don’t be surprised if you meet some people right off the bat only to realize you have literally nothing in common with them. Don’t brush them off! But just don’t feel like you’re never going to find friends. True, authentic friendships take time to find and foster. You may be surprised where you meet them.
  5. Your best friends probably won’t be people you meet at a bar or frat party. Shocker! This is not to say you won’t meet some super cool people when you go out, but Brick Street isn’t exactly an ideal setting for making your best friends (having fun with your already established best friends is different…in that case its a wonderful place for that). How can you foster a real connection with someone new while you’re being shoved into one another, trying not to spill your drinks, while awkwardly shouting over the blaring music. Not to mention, there’s always the chance of one of you not remembering your conversation???? (Hopefully not you though!) I met some of my closest friends this year when I wasn’t look for them. Like my friend Allie that I met through my yoga teacher training. (Hey girl :)) Or obviously, my roommate Natalie. Or all of the amazing girls I’ve met through Church. Or my Theta family. My point is, real friendships usually aren’t made at parties (but if that happens for you, that’s cool too!)
  6. There’s something to be said about being flexible…but there’s also something too be said about not trying to force something to work for you. I’m super guilty of this. I am such a planner and a creature of habit that it is difficult for me to try new things or go outside of my plans. For instance, if I write down in my calendar that I wanted to take an 8pm yoga class but then I get invited to dinner with friends, I’m usually reluctant to say yes because it isn’t what I had planned. However, I can’t think of a time I’ve regretted spending time with my friends. If you’re prioritizing school and activities properly, that should leave you with plenty of time to be flexible and try new things. Of course, there’s a caveat. If your friends are energizer bunnies and want to go out Tuesday-Saturday, DO NOT feel like you have to, too. I love going out on Tuesday nights, but I know I’m going to have to give that up if I’m going to be able to teach yoga at 8am on Wednesdays. If there is a night where you really don’t feel like going out, don’t feel like you have to go just because your friends are or because you feel like it’s the cool thing to do. (And I’m just going to say it… if Miami doesn’t end up working for you, don’t force it. Which leads me to my next point.)
  7. You aren’t going to let people down if you follow your heart…ultimately the people you love just want you to be happy. I’m already so happy for you because you’ve chosen a major that you’re so passionate about. We are very lucky to have parents that didn’t force us into a major to set us on a certain career path. I thought I had to be a business major because it was the smart and practical thing do to. I freaking hated those classes so much. I may have no idea yet what direction I’m going to head in after college, but I’m so much happier to be studying psychology. I love it and I have faith that everything is going to fall in to place so long as I stay motivated to work hard. If you aren’t happy doing something…like in your major, in your friend group, with your schedule or social organizations, or even with Miami, your whole heart won’t be invested in it. I promise you, you won’t let anybody down if you trust your gut and follow your heart. Put your health and happiness first.
  8. Keep your damn room clean. Um, pretty self-explanatory, but easier said than done. For the sake of your roommates, just stay committed to keeping your shit together. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your ducks are in a row.
  9. You could go to massive state school or a teeny tiny private school…the world is small and people talk. If you can help it, try not to be the subject of people’s Friday morning gossip about your wild Thursday night. Also self-explanatory. You have a good head on your shoulders and I don’t really think I need to press the issue. Just know that as a freshman girl looking to go through recruitment, you don’t want to make a negative name for yourself.
  10. But if you make a mistake, it isn’t the end of the world. No matter how horrifying the mistake, someday it will be funny. I didn’t say the last piece of advice to scare you. Literally everyone makes mistakes. Remember my freshman year when I met a boy at a bar, but had one too many drinks, and I didn’t remember him asking me to his formal (let alone remember his name)?? That. Was. Mortifying. Looking back on it, it’s freaking hilarious. You’re going to make a mistake, or a handful of them. Just keep your head screwed on right, don’t beat yourself up, and eventually they’ll just be funny memories and important lessons.
  11. Every time you come home, your toilet will not feel like your own toilet. It never gets less weird. Was it necessary to put this on the Internet? Probably not. Is it true? 110%. It literally freaks me out every time I come home. 
  12. Make friends with the kids you sit by in your classes the first few days…they’re probably nervous and wanting to make friends too. You may end up making a new friend or at least a study buddy. The first week of classes is WEIRD. You’re sitting next to a bunch of strangers, probably in some sort of lecture hall. It’s tempting to want to hide out in the back row, but put on a brave face and try to sit in the front/middle of the class. And then really put on a brave face and introduce yourself to the people next to you. Maybe exchange phone numbers or Snapchats. You’ll be glad you did if you find yourself needing help on one of your first homework assignments, and you may even make a good friend. It’s really hard to be the one to speak up first, but once the ice is broken, you’ll realize you’re all in the same boat. I personally have never thought someone was weird for introducing themselves to me, and I don’t think anyone will think that way about you.
  13. Yes, attending office hours and establishing relationships with your professors is important. I’ve found that getting to know your TA’s (especially grad students) is way more helpful because they’re young, eager, and way more accessible. I swear, every single college tour I went on, the tour guides always said their biggest tip was to go to office hours. I call bullshit. I’ve gone to office hours for some of my professors and have literally gotten nothing out of it. One time my freshman year, I went to my philosophy professor’s office hours and he literally acted annoyed that I was there. Not to mention, it was the end of the semester and he had no clue what my name was even though I sat in the front row of a class of 30 students. You will definitely be able to catch a vibe on which professors are willing to help out during their office hours, and if you have a professor that is going to really help you out, by all means, go talk to them if you have a question. But my pro tip is to get to know your TA’s. If your TA is a grad student that probably means they’re passionate about the subject of the class they’re helping out in. They are usually super eager to help, more accessible than your professors, and easier to relate to.
  14. Call mom…even if you only have 5 minutes between classes. I mean, does this really need an explanation? (Call dad and Emma, too :))

These are probably some of the most important things I’ve learned in my two years as a freshman. I definitely didn’t cover everything, but I think you get the gist. Above all, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. And, if you need a place to crash, cry, or hide out, I’m only a 10 minute walk away <3. I love you so so so much, and I seriously couldn’t be more thrilled to be alongside you as you begin this new chapter of your life. Cheers to new beginnings and all of the crazy fun memories we’re going to make together!!!!

In grace and gratitude, in love and light, 

Maggie

1 thought on “To My Sister”

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