Dear High School Senior

Last week, hundreds of college prospects graced my college campus with wonder on their faces and concerned parents by their side. As I watched group after group after group pass through the halls I began to experience something I didn’t expect: sadness.

Seeing them all bright eyed and full of possibility really took me back. Their whole life is ahead of them and they don’t even realize the magnitude of it all, not that I did either when I was their age.

Each person I passed reminded me of an old self. The shy, timid girl walking beyond her parents was me. The athletic guy who walked around a little too proud was me. The group of students massing together, filled with fascination and wonder was also me and unknown to all those students, I envied them.

I wish I could go back and redo it all sometimes. The person I was four years ago no longer exists and that’s bittersweet. I miss her sometimes, the way she looked at the world. A lot’s changed since then and I’ve learned a lot of very important, albeit hard, life lessons. I’m grateful.

I’ve made it further than most and with just a year left of college I can’t help but want to guide the complete strangers I met today. I was where they are now once, I know what it’s like. I know how crazy awesome (and utterly exhausting) college can be. I know the thrill of being away from home and doing what you want, when you want. I know the freedom they all dream of, but most importantly, I know the cost at which all of this comes.

When you’re eighteen the world is full of wonder and new things to try. It’s a blank canvas, but by the time you reach twenty one, that canvas has been ripped, torn, and painted all over. It can be beautiful, however, once you learn to appreciate the scars.

From the outside looking in, college can seem like a paradise, an escape from mundane life, and in some ways it is. You move out and for the first time in your life you can do what you want. That’s exciting any way you slice it. On the other hand though, college is terrifying and exhausting and confusing.

When you’re eighteen you just can’t see those things, you can’t be told, you have to experience it.

These young people that watched me (fail) at throwing clay didn’t know what I had to go through to get where I am. They didn’t see the sleepless nights or secret cry sessions in the bathroom. They didn’t see the heartbreak or the friends I’ve lost. They didn’t see those things, they couldn’t.

What they saw was a girl laughing with her friends. They saw confident artists. They saw college students who have their life figured out…or at least that’s what they saw on the surface.

Reality was, I was laughing because of how bad I was at throwing clay that day. And I thought I was so bad because I was comparing myself to everyone else in the room–not exactly the confident artist as it might seem. And ask any college student and they will tell you that don’t have their life figured out, they barely have lunch figured out.

College seems to great until you’re actually living it. The perfect image you have in your mind quickly shatters and you’re left with an icky mess, but the secret to college, young ones, is to learn to love the mess. Embrace the uncertainty. Live through the chaos.

I wish I could give you the secret formula, but I can’t. Everyone’s path will be different and there will be times you want to quit.  All I can say is don’t give in, don’t give up. College isn’t just about an education, it’s a journey. You will change more in the four years you’re here than any other time in your life. It will be scary and you’ll want to hide from the world some days. That’s okay, just don’t forget to dust yourself back off and get back on the horse.

Someday soon I’ll be gone and you’ll take my place. It won’t be me wanting to share my knowledge with you, but you with the generations that will come after us. Take this time to grow and learn while you still can. It’ll be gone before you blink twice, trust me.

For now, I’ll continue the few semesters of college I have left, greeting fresh faces as they glow with envy watching my fellow classmates and I. All I can say for now is you have your whole life in front of you. Don’t wish it all away. Take it as it comes and let it change you.

As a second semester college junior I wish you the best as you start your journey. I won’t be there to see it, but just know I’m rooting for you.