To my baby sister, (and any other young girl starting university,)
This letter is timely. I’m not sure if you’re following the news, but my head is currently reeling from learning of a chant that was sung during this year’s frosh week at a local university. When I heard the words of the chant read out for me on a local news station last week, my stomach sank. It was horrifying. It was crass. And unfortunately, it was unsurprising in a first-year university setting.
It was March of my first year of university when I finally grew tired of trying to keep up with that new culture. Parties. Bars. Drinking. Sex. I was wading around, trying to maintain my sense of self while getting to know the people whom I would now be studying with. Like you, I was newly single and I desperately wanted to be liked. I even wanted to be loved.
A shot from first year university outside my dorm room on Halloween.
It took me months to realize that the culture which permeated that first year of my university career had nothing to do with higher learning or fostering relationships. It was all about new experiences and experimentation.
That night in March, I sat in my residence alone. It was Saint Patrick’s Day, and my cohorts were all out at the pub on the hunt and getting drunk. I shouldn’t make it sound so primitive. They were having fun and being with their friends, but I was so over it. I had tried that. I had gone out, met people, danced, drank a bit (but rarely to excess – and I don’t just say this because Mom and Dad are reading). I was energized whenever guys wanted to dance with me and I felt like trash when I’d leave at the end of a night in which no one had shown any interest.
Some nights, I’d meet a boy. Those nights were the thrilling ones. I was hot! I was worthy of the attention! I had something to offer! Except? They often wanted more than I was willing to give. I came to realize that there was an expected reciprocity in a purchased cocktail. A kind walk home in the dark from the bar was never simply chivalrous. The amount of times I had to say “No” or “Stop” for the message to really sink in was staggering. The fact that I ever had to use force to protect my own body was, and still is, unacceptable.
There is so much I wish I knew about myself back then. I have learned so much in the near decade that has passed since my first year of university that I could write my past self a novel of warnings and hints and advice. But, I’m not in that place anymore. You are. So, I reclaimed the chant for you as you go forth into your university career. It may not have rhythm and a beat but the message sure is better than the other one going around.
Y- You are worth it
It can be easy to question your value when you enter a new environment expected to forge new relationships. I don’t know if the culture that you are in will be different than the culture that I was in but no matter what, remember that you are a person worthy of being known and worthy of being loved. You might question this. You might forget this. But it will always be true. Other people don’t determine your worth. Find it within. Value yourself, value your body, and value what you have to offer.
O- Own Yourself
Now is the time to decide who you are and who you want to be. I don’t mean solely in the career sense. That will come. I mean, personally. How do you want people to perceive you? What qualities do you have and do you want that you can be proud of? What beliefs do you want to delve deeper into and what beliefs do you want to leave behind? Use this time to become the Molly that you will forever be proud of. Define your values and don’t ever waver from them. Don’t try to make Mom and Dad proud. Don’t try to make Amy and I proud. Be proud of yourself – and hopefully that person that you are proud of is also the person that we can be proud of too.
U- Unite with Others
University is undeniably a time to meet new people and create deep and lasting friendships. Open yourself up to other people and do things with them. Go on adventures that you will be talking about for years. Don’t look for friends to heighten your status but seek out friends who will enhance your life now and later.
N- No regrets
I was told during my university career that I would regret certain decisions. I don’t. I may have slight regrets about a decision I made before even entering university, but I know that the decision I made then led me to the person I am now. Follow your heart and your passions and know that if you love what you are doing, you will never regret doing it. These days, people change their career almost as often as they change their underwear. It can feel daunting to make such major life decisions when you are 18 and 19 and 20, but they are not binding. Make your own decisions, but take guidance to heart.
You have such a beautiful opportunity to expand your mind in university. Learn everything you can and love the process. Drink it in. Think critically. Create work that you are proud of. Be passionate. Embrace all that this new opportunity has to offer.
Despite that feeling one night in March, I truly loved university. I hope you will too, Molly. This opportunity is yours for the taking. Make it worth it. Make yourself proud.
Because? I’m proud of you.