March 5, 2014 by Drew Stelljes
Last week I was asked to speak to the new members of social fraternities at W&M. It was an honor I took seriously. I wrote the following speech and hope it serves as a guide for a few other people as they contemplate their role in community.
There are dozens of lists that declare an array of benefits to being in a fraternity. I bet you’ve read a few, and definitely heard about several over the past few months and maybe years. They include:
- Leadership Opportunities
- Higher GPAs
- Community Service
- Greeks Are More Likely to Graduate
- Career Networking
- More Interaction With Faculty
- Improved Interpersonal Skills
- Built-In Sports Team
- Practice Your Interview Skills
- Some of the Most Successful People Are Greek
These all may have some correlation to Greek life, but it’s a lot harder to determine causality, especially the past 20-30 years or so. As we examine the list more closely, just about every benefit can also be found elsewhere on a college campus: leadership opportunities, service, intramurals, practice interview skills, talk with faculty, good GPA, etc. All of these attributes or accomplishments are completely feasible without membership in a fraternity. Further, the claim to fame about how successful people are Greek, begs the question of correlation or causality. Was it the fraternity that developed your determination to succeed or was it already a part of your DNA? Not sure.
So, as I pick apart supposed benefits, not for the sake of tearing down the system which I think so highly of, but rather to dig into what really sustains Greek life over hundreds of years and the evolution of the college experience, we’ve got to more carefully assess why fraternities continue to thrive on college campuses. Here’s my theory—one person, one brother, one perspective.
You consider rushing for one of a few reasons: (1) a friend encourages you to try it and the fact that someone else wants you to join them, feels good. (2) You want to join because, membership is one of the college must do’s. (3) You’d probably regret it if you didn’t join. So you join and it’s great – for a while. The new car shine wears off though, the chapter isn’t perfect, you notice the faults of individuals and maybe even of the chapter. But, you persist. It’s at this time the evolution from membership to brotherhood starts. You’ve put in some effort and you decide to stick it out. Aha! This is where the brotherhood can take hold. Cause now you’ve made the decision to remain part of the family even though you realize the family isn’t perfect. Every family has an uncle who can’t get it together, an aunt who fails at a lot of stuff, a parent who prioritizes the wrong thing, etc. But, you stick it out, cause you’re family. So you call yourself brother and you see your fellow brothers be good and funny and smart. And—you witness him being an idiot and a fool and drunk . But, he’s your family. So you stick with it.
And then, in your bravest moment, maybe in your entire college career, you stand up for your chapter. You re-read your ritual or your core values, For God and Women, Honor, Loyalty, and you muster up the courage to call out a brother for acting the fool. Or you prod the entire brotherhood toward being better than they are in current form. A non Greek calls out the faults of the system and instead of blowing him off, you fight back because you know, in your heart, while the system isn’t perfect, the process has been good to you. It’s then that you earn that title of lifelong member. It’s then that you really believe—this is for keeps.
For me, being courageous was so tough. I was intimidated by my older peers who were more articulate than I was. They commanded a presence in chapter meetings and they were funnier than me around the house. It took me a while to evolve from guest to brother – in my own head. Really all of my brothers accepted me early on. Took me longer to realize they accepted me!
Anyway, I was moved by our ritual, feeling a sense of spirituality I hadn’t before. I was surprised by the significance our founders placed on deep and quiet reflection. Still, I didn’t really fully come into brotherhood til I stood up for those values. I remember, one evening in 1995 like it was yesterday. I was planning on standing up at the end of meeting when there was open mic, to implore our brotherhood to remain true to values our founders wrote about. I was scared. Shaking. Sweaty palms. Dry mouth. Trembling a bit. I had rehearsed my speech. No one knew a speech was coming. I stood upon getting the ok from the chapter president and I spoke. I told my brothers how I wanted our chapter to be open to diverse opinions and how everyone should have voice, not the chosen few and the charismatic or funny others. I was still so scared, afraid of ridicule. As good as we could be to one another, one false phrase could become your nickname for life. I kept going though. We must be the ritual, live it, and model it. Not merely reciting the words that we hold sacred, but living it through our actions. We wore our letters a lot. We needed to hold them as sacred. Reminders to all not that we belonged to an exclusive club but that the letter stood for something greater than our one self. We’d made a pledge to be honorable, chivalric, and to live with integrity. We vowed to be future focused and to seek elders to help us seek our path. I was so afraid of being ridiculed, but I continued. I told the brothers how much I believed in the chapter and that the long meetings, the disagreements, the debates over who to admit, were worth it, so long as we stayed the course. I concluded with a rally cry of some sort and, as I sat down and slunk in my seat—the brothers applauded. Whew. They do like me, I thought. I was vulnerable, I was brave and they were ok with it. That’s the night I earned brotherhood. The family accepted me.
Now, in a fraternity, one decent speech, made at the right time, can earn you leadership positions! So I accepted a few over the next several years and I learned a ton about myself.
I learned that I most enjoy creating new things. I like to think about the future and how, a new project might make the system better for the next generation. I learned that I liked to hear brothers tell me about themselves one on one and not in large groups. I became better at asking questions and answering questions with some depth as pledges were required to interview every brother. I learned that none of us are perfect, far from it, and it’s ok to see someone in a bad place and then praise him next week for doing something good. I learned forgiveness—slowly and with a few chances to practice. And mostly, I learned to say goodbye to a good friend. In my chapter I grieved for the first time. During my senior my friend and brother Keith was murdered in his apartment. As soon as we all heard we ran – literally to the fraternity house and we hugged, we cried. We hit the walls. And then, some of us prayed. We prayed so loudly on the front porch I bet you could hear us across the street. Well, that’s how it sounded to me in that circle of brotherhood. Brad, our prayer leader that night became an awesome minister. He was doing some vocational discernment on the porch that night. After we prayed, we sat in silence and just like in ritual we went back to deep reflection. We’d never been in this place, but we were not entirely uncomfortable. We’d done this before. Ritual gave us the framework when we would need it most. In time, we healed mostly from Keith’s death. Last month a handful of us completed our fundraising effort for a scholarship in Keith’s honor. So, he’s still with us. His memory remains. He is our brother. And we are family.
So, the top 5’s and 10’s lists about benefits of Greek life, on the surface, sure they are not incorrect, but they don’t distinguish Greek life from college life.
Interaction With Faculty
Improved Interpersonal Skills
Practice Your Interview Skills
You’ll find these on any residential campus these days. So, here’s my top’s list. Brotherhood affords you the chance to:
- Live ritual
- Reflect on what you want in life
- Over time, coming to admire individuals for their unique strengths
- Over time, learning how to support brothers who fall down
- Have a family- a crazy family, but a real family and
- To, in short time, evolve from the kid to the dad to the granddad of the family
- And becoming a brother in a fraternity happens when you become brave, standing up for what the group could become and being accepted for your bravery
I hope you will feel welcomed into the brotherhood. Earn your keep by being brave when your family needs you most.
February 27, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
February 8th, otherwise known as Charter Day, is a day that has a very significant meaning for every student here at William & Mary. However, Charter Day tends to be extra special for me because not only is it the birthday of my favorite place on Earth, but it is also my own birthday!
While W&M was turning 321 last week, I was just reaching 20. In high school, I took this little coincidence as a sign from the higher education gods that William & Mary was the place for me. However, now I tend to look at it as more of an honor. To be able to share the same birthday as the second oldest college in the USA is, frankly, mildly intimidating. We’re talking about the school that educated three [arguably four] US Presidents, founded the first Honor Code, created the first Law School, and was the birthplace of Greek Life.
That’s a big birthday shadow to live in.
The one thing that makes me confident every day is knowing that by having the chance to study at William & Mary, I’ve given myself the best kick start anyone can have, as far as I’m concerned. The sheer excellence of every single one of my professors reminds me that I’m not just sitting in my classes getting “talked at” here. I am learning and growing so much every day in a way that will actually help me succeed both academically and personally for the rest of my life.
The people I have met on this campus have been some of the most amazing and inspiring people I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. No wonder William & Mary has been around for 321 years of doing what it does best, nurturing young minds to continue its legacy by being all that they can be and more. I am humbled to be able to say, even if for just a short while, that I was a part of W&M’s illustrious history, and that these brick pathways were my first true home away from home.
- Audrey Savage
February 25, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
2013, my first complete year at William & Mary. Time really does fly by when you are having fun.
2013 was a busy one making many new friends, and countless memories. One of the best choices I have made here at W&M was pledging a social fraternity. I was able to participate in the Student Leadership Foundation and took some of my favorite classes of all time (make sure to snag a seat in American Politics, Emerging Diseases, or African American History since 1710).
The spring in Williamsburg is the epitome of ideal temperatures so it didn’t get better than giving a tour or playing croquet with the W&M Croquet Club. I also interned at the admission office last spring semester as well, which was an amazing experience. Going to the Day For Admitted Students was one of my favorite memories as an admitted student before actually coming to William & Mary, so it was awesome to be able to help plan the day for the Class of 2017.
Over Spring Break, I tagged along on my dad’s business trip to Portland. It was my first time traveling to the west coast. Seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time made this one of my most memorable trips. I also went skiing for the first time in my entire life. While my dad and his colleagues went skiing down black diamond slopes all day, I impressed two five year olds who were learning to ski with me on the bunny slope. After coming back to W&M, my sister swung by Williamsburg for Easter weekend and I was able to show her around, introduce her to my friends, and take her to the church I attend here in Williamsburg.
After the spring semester ended, I headed home to Northern Virginia for the summer. I interned with the American Wood Council, which is the national trade association for the wood products industry. It was a great experience and I learned a lot. You will find out that although college summers are long and fun, by the end you will be excited to return to William & Mary to see all of your friends and get back in the swing of things. Highlights from fall of 2013 include welcoming the Class of 2017 during Convocation and Homecoming week. It was great to see alums return to their alma mater and cheer on the Tribe. Nothing puts you in the spirit of the Tribe better than pulling out a win for the Homecoming game.
I finished the semester off with the Yule Log ceremony. Throwing that sprig of holly on the fire and seeing President Reveley dressed up like Santa is a memorable experience! As the year came to a close, with finals behind me and the start of fresh new semester not too far in the near future, I realized that maybe ’13 was a luckier number than I had originally thought.
- Mark Bland
February 25, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
It’s safe to say that 2013 has been one of the most exciting years of my life so far. I rang in the New Year on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, the culmination of a once-in-a-lifetime trip with one of my best friends. And although I spent New Year’s Eve 2013 in the decidedly-less exotic Northern Virginia suburbs, the 364 days in between took me to no fewer than three US states, four European countries, and eight airports. If you’re thinking that I sound like a super cool adventurous jet setter, please keep in mind that it hasn’t ALL been that exciting. (Case in point: I spent last night eating granola and watching PBS in my jammies.)
The truth is that I have had a pretty great year! Among the crazy cool highlights? Getting an A in a crazy-hard government class. Crying real tears at my first-ever Taylor Swift concert. Watching my little sister graduate from high school. Spending a perfect summer day on a road trip to Sonic with my best friend. Swimming under a two-thousand-year-old Roman aqueduct during orientation of my semester abroad. Taking over 600 photos in the less than three days that I spent in Paris. Visiting Strasbourg’s world-famous Christmas markets. Coming home to my family just in time for Christmas. It’s all been amazing.
But despite a great spring semester and an absolutely incredible four months in Montpellier, France, it wasn’t all fun and games. In slightly bittersweet news, 2013 marked the halfway point of my career at W&M. I began the year a carefree sophomore and ended it a junior with an inbox full of emails asking me to file for graduation. It’s weird to think that I’ll be finishing up my major this spring or, horrifyingly, that more than half of the students on campus are now younger than me. Talk about a midlife crisis!
However, the best part of 2013 is that despite how exciting and rewarding it’s been, it’s given me even more to look forward to in the year to come. From the opportunity to return to France to do research this summer, to the chance to work in the Admission Office as an intern, to the amazingly exciting fact that I’m going to be an aunt in a few short weeks, I can already tell that, as great as 2013 may have been, 2014 is going to be even better!
- Elisabeth Bloxam
February 24, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
I get it, it’s February. New Year’s decorations have been cleared, sparkling cider bottles recycled, and resolutions left to the wayside. But William & Mary made 2013 possibly the best year yet. Despite being a transfer student, I spent the spring semester of 2013 studying abroad in Grenoble, France. In high school, I had always known that I was going abroad. For a week, a semester, a year, I was going to study outside of the US. When I ended up transferring, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to study abroad.
Oh how wrong I was.
I walked into the Reves Center afraid that my scarlet T was shining extra bright that day. When I sat down and spoke with someone in the office, I explained I was a transfer and I wanted to go abroad, but I wasn’t sure I could still go for a whole semester. The wonderful intern flashed me a ridiculously confused smile, “Of course you can go abroad for a whole semester. Where do you want to go?” It was that simple. Instead of being worried that being a transfer would create a barrier, I was reminded, yet again, that it doesn’t matter how you got to William & Mary; you’re here and the volumes that could be filled with the opportunities available to you wouldn’t even fit in Swem.
After studying abroad, 2013 continued to prove a fantastic year. I spent the summer in Williamsburg as a Senior Interviewer meeting some of the best people at W&M. I then started my penultimate semester taking classes I had been looking forward to since I registered for them, participating in the clubs and organizations I had missed going abroad, and getting to participate in some of my favorite William & Mary traditions including Homecoming and Yule Log. With only a few months left at W&M, I cannot wait to see what 2014 has in store for me.
- Kate Fitzgerald
February 24, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
I’m sad to say that the 2012-2013 school year was definitely my hardest at W&M. It wasn’t because of my rigorous course load, my TWAMPy habit of overcommitting, or any of the problems life threw at me. It was because when May rolled around I had to say goodbye to some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to call friends. Graduation this year was terrible. It didn’t help that spring 2013 was the best of all of my W&M spring semesters. The school activities in the spring are among the best, including Holi, a Hindu festival where you throw paint powder at each other, and Campus Golf, a philanthropy even thrown by a social sorority, for which I may have wandered campus in a blow-up blueberry suit (it was very Violet Beuregarde). Spring in Williamsburg is beautiful, which meant frequent trips to College Creek, a local beach loved by students, and Jamestown Pie (I’m telling you it’s amazing!!).
It all made graduation so much harder. The very people who had made William & Mary my home for the past three years were leaving me for bigger things and I desperately wanted to be among them. It was a wake-up call. As I heard more and more people focussing on the future—grad schools, interviews, jobs, Fulbrights, Teach for America—and going out on their own in the real world, I realized that it was almost time for me to do the same. The future is scary, and as students began returning to campus that fall I realized that another year at home was a good thing.
In my opinion, Convocation is one of the College’s finest traditions. For those of you who are unaware, let me enlighten you: Convocation occurs at the end of the first day of classes, when the new students are officially welcomed into the Tribe. The incoming freshmen and transfers get all dressed up with their hall-mates and Orientation Aids to listen to the President’s welcoming address, and an angelic rendition by the choir of our Alma Mater. Once it’s all over they are ushered through the Wren Building and beyond, where they are greeted by the rest of the Tribe. I will warn you—it’s overwhelming. The upperclassmen are waiting on the opposite side of the Wren, chanting “freshmen!” and raining down high fives as the newest members of the Tribe arrive. I remember walking through that crowd almost four years ago with an unmistakable sense of belonging. Random strangers, soon to be my new family, fought for a chance to be part of my own beginning. It’s amazing being welcomed into the community with your new friends at your side, excited to see what lies ahead—in this case, a never ending line of hands and a picnic on the Sunken Garden.
As it was our last Convocation together, my freshman hall-mates met up and reminisced about the weird times in Gooch Hall, and what was to come. It reminded me that I have to take full advantage of this final year. To me, the worst part of graduating is not being able to walk across campus to see your best friends, but instead having to fly across the county, if not the world. So this fall I spent time reconnecting with old friends, making tons of new ones, and going on all of my favorite Williamsburg adventures.
Now it’s time for the end: senior spring.
My Goal for 2014: figure out what to do with the rest of my life! It’s a lofty one I know, but I have to do it sometime—ideally before I’m forced to move back in with my parents…
- Devyn Harris
February 7, 2014 by Ariana Guy
Unfortunately, this blog is not going to be about Charter Day. I’m not going to describe the excitement surrounding Robert Gates and Wiz Khalifa, or tell you about my own plans to celebrate the College. Instead, I’m just going to complain about how this upcoming Charter Day weekend will be my last – which makes me feel very depressed.
I remember my first year at William & Mary. I was incredibly nervous and intimidated because I thought everyone else was smarter than me. Thankfully, I found good friends – fast – and with their help, I was also able to build some confidence. The years went by quickly, and all of them were filled with both triumphs and challenges. I excelled in seemingly insurmountable classes, met incredibly diverse and interesting people, and realized that I could survive out in the world without my mother (well…barely). I also learned that I will never understand economics, prefer having my own space, and absolutely CANNOT work during evening hours – which inconveniences me to this day.
Obviously, I’ve learned and experienced a lot here, at William & Mary. But despite this truth, I feel neither old nor wise enough to leave this 321 year old campus. I’m not ready! For once, I’m envious of the freshmen who talk about future courses they’d like to take, or their plans for next semester. I don’t have any semesters left and it’s not fair!
Enough with the complaining. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. I’ve been obsessed with this school ever since my junior year in high school – and my feelings of admiration have never ceased. William & Mary has given me so much more than a world-class education. I’ve garnered a second home. Not to mention, it looks almost surreal during spring and fall. I’m going to miss this place.
My apologies for turning a potentially happy and exhilarating blog into an excuse to be maudlin, but I really needed to express these emotions (*sniff sniff). What can I say? This Charter Day weekend is not all about fun – it’s also about feeling nostalgic and sorry for ourselves. It’s not even May and I’m already breaking at the seams.
I can only imagine what my Graduation Day blog will be like.
All I can say is, Happy Birthday William & Mary. Thanks for the memories, your incredible influence on my life, and preparing me for a world that will both challenge and amaze me.
January 23, 2014 by Ryann Tanap
To my incredibly talented and inspiring Tribe Family:
1. You’re not going to get straight A’s anymore. It’s a terrible thing to realize, as many of you are used to being the top in your class. However, the courses at the College are downright challenging, so there’s no surprise there. But guess what? You don’t have to be perfect, because no one is. Just keep in mind that grades do not define you or your character. Do your best and put in the effort, because that’s all that is asked of you.
2. Pick a few extracurriculars to join, but don’t go overboard. Like many of your peers, you’re probably used to doing a million things at once — and excelling at all of them. However, it’s important to know how to balance your classes, work and student activities. When I was a student at the College, everyone I knew seemed to be taking 18+ credits, holding down one (or two) on-campus jobs, and serving on the executive board for almost every organization they were involved in. And while many were able to juggle it all, a majority of them sacrificed sleep, healthy habits, and just plain time to themselves. Be passionate about what you do, but don’t forsake your personal well-being.
3. The trek between Morton and Wren will always take you the full 10 minutes between classes. That’s just how it is. Even if you’re on a bike, it’s still going to take you a while to weave through and dodge pedestrians.
4. Don’t go to Swem during midterms/finals. Trust me. Swem is crowded with other students who are constantly on edge, or haven’t showered, or worse, actually packed all their meals with them for that day and refuse to give up their computer on the second floor (yes, I will admit to doing the latter once or twice…). No shame. Still, there’s no sense in stressing yourself out searching for a study spot, unless you don’t mind camping out on the carpet. There are other places to study, so feel free to change it up every now and then. Empty classrooms, computer labs (my favorite was the one in the ISC), dorm lounges, the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, and more, await you! Plus, it’s nice to get a change of scenery.
5. Do go to Swem during other times of the semester. It’s actually a really nice environment to do work in, and for some, to socialize. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on a crucial part of the W&M experience. Plus, you’ll always find a study table that meets your standards and is adjacent to an electrical outlet.
6. If you find someone’s lost ID, go to the Directory. You can type in their last name and email them directly to notify them of your discovery. It just makes their search so much easier – they won’t have to search all of the front desks on campus, nor retrace their steps from the past couple of days. Plus, you’ll have to meet up with them to return their card to them, and there is nothing wrong with making new friends!
7. Take advantage of the Rec Center (and running trails if you’re the outdoorsy type). Students need only present their student ID to gain access to the facilities at the Rec! Looking back, I wish I had gone much more frequently (3x a week would have been a good goal), because I would have established much healthier habits for myself sooner. After you leave college, you actually have to pay for a gym membership, unless you live in an apartment complex with its very own gym.
8. Purchase a CW cider mug at the beginning of the year (since it’s January, do it now!). You’ll get free refills for the remainder of the year! And if you’re 21 and up, invest in a Green Leafe mug. You’ll thank me later.
9. Are you, or is someone you know, going through a tough time? Go to the Counseling Center. I can’t emphasize enough just how underutilized this resource is. Can you believe it took me until my sophomore year to realize that such a place existed? It wasn’t until I was in crisis mode that a kind language professor suggested I make an appointment there; I’m happy to share that I ended up attending sessions there until my senior year. I participated in individual counseling and later transitioned into group therapy (the latter being my most memorable experience at the College). There are other services there, as well, including couples and family counseling, outreach programs, and resources for helping a friend in need. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help. You won’t be penalized, you won’t be judged, and you won’t regret it. After all, when you break a bone or catch a nasty virus, do people tell you to not go to the hospital or clinic? Of course they don’t. They tell you to seek medical attention immediately, if not take you there themselves. The same is true for your mind. If you have mental health concerns, address them! Take care of that beautiful mind of yours.
Hope these were helpful. I know I wish I learned them sooner. If you have any additions or rejections of any of the above, feel free to share your thoughts by commenting below or emailing me at email@example.com.
January 6, 2014 by Skyler Paltell
I almost fell off the sofa this morning when I checked my email and discovered a reminder to file for graduation.
How did I become a second semester junior so quickly? And how am I receiving this cruel reminder that I only have three semesters left? And most importantly, why am I receiving this notice when I still have three semesters left?
I’m twenty years old. I still like to watch SpongeBob on weekend mornings and eat ice cream out of the carton; I read Seventeen Magazine and my socks never match. I am in no way ready, or even close to being ready, to become a fully functioning, independent member of society. I’m positive that if I graduated right now, my inexperience at life would render me a menace to society.
The email was a reminder that college is merely another phase of life, the last phase of relative freedom, a transient experience that you’ll one day reflect on as the best days of your life. There will be life after William & Mary, though I can’t imagine it at all and have no idea what I’ll be doing with myself. I know that some day, eventually, I’ll have an apartment instead of a dorm; I’ll (hopefully) have a job, and have to deal with things like health insurance (what?) and pay my own bills. But these realities always seemed like a distant hypothetical, something far on the other side of four years of fun and friends and academics. Up until 11:06 this morning, my biggest concern was whether to buy the blue or the pink shirt from Victoria’s Secret. Now I’m realizing that I should probably be editing my resume and applying for summer internships instead. Hello, adulthood.
I know I’m not alone—I’m sure everyone who received the email this morning is having an identity crisis. The only people who are not panicking, I’m sure, are the parents—my parents were celebrating this winter break when they realized they only had to pay two more tuition bills. I wish I had something reassuring to say, but I’m as lost as the rest of us. I only know that each of us is innately driven, intelligent, and tenacious, and by the time graduation rolls around, our four years here will have prepared us, on some level, for what is beyond. The rest of it—our futures—is up to us.
January 2, 2014 by Laura Manzano
Hello freshman Laura,
If you’re anything like I remember, right now you’re sitting on the Brown Hall sun porch, contemplating whether or not to study for your psych test. It is this moment in which I will offer you my first piece of advice: stop right now. Don’t bother. Nezlek’s tests are hard no matter what, and you’re going to get a C in the class. It’s 3 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Go find your best friend, take a walk down DOG street and around all of the prettiest parts of campus, because three years from now you’ll be living in the glamorous Randolph complex on the opposite end of campus, and you will wish you had done that more often.
The most important thing to learn right away about college is that it isn’t high school. No one cares about your SAT scores. It is no longer a big deal that you were the president of 49 clubs, the captain of 86 teams, volunteered for 450 organizations, all while holding a part-time job and balancing a delightfully eclectic mix of quirky hobbies that included both crocheting and playing the pan flute. Leave that stuff at your parents’ mini-van’s door.
If you feel the impulse to dress up this weekend and go out to a party – go for it. Three years from now, you’ll want nothing more on any given Saturday than to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender with your best friends while drinking a mug of cheap wine and snuggling underneath a blanket with horses on it. Live life while you still have the will to do so.
If you get home from class tomorrow, accidentally nap through dinner, and wake up fifteen minutes before the dining hall closes – stop. Don’t rush to put on your shoes and find your ID. Open your refrigerator, reach to the very back of the bottom vegetable drawer, and you will find more edible food than you will at the Caf at 7:55 on any given night.
When those late nights seem endless, stop what you’re doing and take a hot shower. Sing the National Anthem very loudly. Run up and down the Sunken Garden. Except I know you better than that, so you’re going to walk instead, because running is something you just don’t do, like physics or waking up early. Take a break from the computer screen or the book, get some oxygen in your brain (is that how it works?), and I promise you’ll feel better and do better on whatever you’re working on when you return to it. Just remember: it is one test, in one class, in one semester, in one year of your entire life.
Also: The Cheese Shop has this raspberry cheesecake brownie. Get one every time you’re there.
Take pictures of the things that seem stupid now, because come senior year, you’ll be looking through them all during a party in your apartment, drunkenly nostalgic, and the fact that your laptop case has accumulated dozens of stickers when it used to be completely bare will make you cry the whitest white girl tears you’ve ever wept, but it will be entertaining and you’ll be glad you did it. Take pictures of your friends’ faces. Take pictures of your own face. Take pictures of every room you live in – the comforter on your bed, the posters on your walls. Take a picture of Williamsburg in every season. Of the inside of your favorite academic building. Even your least favorite, so you can gawk at them years later and wonder how you ever survived (sorry, Jones). Take pictures you won’t be able to find on William & Mary’s website. Those pictures will be the crisp artifacts of your memory long after your memory has faded, and you will cherish them for as long as they exist.
You are going to meet a lot of people over the next few years. Forget the ones who jokingly remark that you hang around the Terrace too often to be a real person with actual responsibilities. To those people you’ll need to say, “please shut up,” and carry on as you were. But there will be a couple of people you’ll need to remember. And more than just remember them, you need to be loyal to them. Loyalty, as you’ll need to learn over the next four years, is just about the most important thing there is. You’ll make some pretty close friends over the next few years, and you’ll be closer to them than you could have ever imagined. But inevitably, your hilarious, passionate, and deeply intelligent best friends will be idiots every now and again, and they’ll make mistakes, make you mad, and make life difficult for themselves and for you. Listen to me very closely: you need to forgive them, and you need to stand by them. You’re going to be lucky enough that you’ll become friends with people who are decent and good to the core, whose morals and life philosophies you’ll respect even when they’re not shared. Remember that about these friends, come hell or high water, because people will always remember who sticks around when things are hard.
Ignore the scrutiny of those who don’t know you, but accept and digest that from those who do. (Related: Mom is right. Mom will always be right.) Be grateful to those who go out of their way to tell you things that are hard to hear; chances are, those things are just as hard for the other person to say. “I’m telling you because I love you,” will never be a tired cliché.
I’ll be honest with you, Laura – I wrote this letter over a couple of weeks, small paragraphs at a time, reorganizing and rewriting sections every time I opened my computer. That is one habit of yours that has not changed, and I don’t know this for sure yet, but I’m predicting now that it might never change. Your best writing will almost always annoyingly emerge toward the very end of your wits, pompously skirting too close to its deadline, and that emergence will occur at the inconvenient hour of very, very early in the morning – like, hour three or four of the day. William & Mary will teach you how to write fantastic papers in your English classes, a proof or two in calculus that you will quickly forget, and even some stuff about rocks and the earth or whatever when you’re forced to take geology. But William & Mary will not teach you how to change yourself. You will be teased this year for always working in the common areas of your dorm and never working in your room, even though you find that it works better for you. People will stare at you in shock and concern when you tell them you haven’t started your five-page paper that’s due in twenty-four hours. Just a warning – these looks and remarks will cause you to become terribly insecure. You’ll very soon begin to wonder why you didn’t read more classic literature in high school, and regret not studying more for your SATs when you could have. You’ll feel this way for a while. Sure, go ahead – question the admission committee. What did they see in you? Why are you here? But I’ll tell you right now that your GPA means nothing. At the end of your life, your eulogy (ideally sung aloud by Michael Bublé and Beyoncé together in harmony) will not consist of scores and stats and numbers. You’re a lot smarter than your grades will try to tell you, and there’s more that you have going for you that cannot be measured by grades at all. Never confuse education with intelligence.
It will take you twenty one and a half years, a lot of tears, and a few unfortunate missteps for you to finally realize your true worth as a human being: as a friend to your friends, a sister to your siblings, a daughter to your parents. That moment will come at a time not uncommon to most other profundities – in the wake of tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal. It’ll be one of those strange feelings that hurts yet feels beautiful and liberating at the same time, like an expensive massage or chocolate with spicy peppers in it.
No matter what, don’t try to change who you are. Don’t even work around it. Work with it. Understand yourself, accept yourself. You won’t be able to move forward – or graduate – any other way. And you’re going to want to graduate eventually, I promise.
Green and gold 4evr,
P.S. Next year, your little sister will also attend William & Mary. Never lend her any of your clothes. She will live on the opposite side of campus. You will never get them back.