Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Dear Accepted Students,
I want to start off by saying congratulations! You should be incredibly proud of your acceptance to this school. After the tiresome college application process, you now have another wonderful, yet terrifying road ahead of you. As a graduating senior, I hope to shed some light on what is to come.
Freshman year is a difficult, trying time. You’re going to be pushed academically, socially, and emotionally, but it’ll be okay. Every single self-conscious freshman is nervous about what they’re going through. Even though you might think that you’re the only one struggling, you are not alone.
Most of my time at Swarthmore has been great, but it’s important that I discuss my most challenging times that have truly shaped who I have become. I will share with you some of the lessons that I have learned in the hope that you find them useful to your own lives, whether or not you end up enrolling here.
1. Accept rejection gracefully
Over my four years I have been rejected by three plays, four a capella groups, the orientation committee, and numerous grants. I’ve also been rejected from being a Writing Associate, Admissions Fellow, Diversity Coordinator and RA. I’m not going to lie to you. I really struggled dealing with the rejection I faced in college. It’s not a fun process. Even now as a senior, I’ve faced rejection from job after job, but I’m okay. I can move on and find something else.
Rejection is something real that we all have to deal with. We all have these expectations of where we will end up, and sometimes we need to open ourselves to the possibilities that we didn’t originally envision for ourselves. You can overcome rejection and find other opportunities out there…
2. Seek opportunities
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This school has a lot of funding that is available for you. Because of Swarthmore funding, I got to spend three summers in South America doing work that has actually inspired my future career plans. I didn’t get these opportunities because I’m a genius. It’s because I explored my different options and didn’t let my numerous rejections stop me from doing what I love.
3. Define your own happiness
I’ve had peers tell me that my schedule was too easy or that I didn’t have enough extracurriculars. These criticisms used to really bother me, but I’ve learned that I can’t let other people tell me how to lead my life.
Do not let anyone define your happiness. No professor, peer, or partner should ever tell you how to feel about yourself. Spend college figuring out what fulfills you and makes you happy. Beyond music and theater, I’ve learned that sharing my story has become very therapeutic for me. Writing to you now helps me far more than you will ever know, and that is so much more powerful than any criticism a judgmental peer can throw at me.
4. Help yourself
Last spring, I was going through a rough time with friends, and instead of reaching out, I silently dealt with my problems until I couldn’t take it anymore. Despite my fears, I decided to go to our counseling services, CAPS. Suddenly I had an outlet for these frustrations that I had been keeping inside. CAPS gave me perspective on life and taught me to open up and share my feelings in such a productive, healthy way. They were the help I needed.
I considered not sharing this in such a public forum because of the peers or future employers that may think differently of me, but it would be hypocritical of me to let others’ approval define my decisions. Those who read this have no right to judge me. I am not going to apologize for taking care of myself, and you never should either.
5. Empathize with others
My time in CAPS taught me that I shouldn’t completely blame my friends or peers for issues that come up between us. People are not evil. They are just trying to make their way through the world in a way that makes sense to them. Really think about where people are coming from and what motivates their decisions in life. Everyone is fighting something.
6. Share with others
Earlier this semester I was making small talk with a freshman, who out of nowhere asked me, “Do you like Swarthmore?” Instead of giving a quick answer, we ended up talking for two hours, during which I explained that Swarthmore can be difficult, but it’s worth it in the end. I told him how my own experiences inspired my personal growth and made me the man I am today. I left that meeting and wrote down all my feelings; that actually became the basis for this op-ed.
Even in my old age, I still have lessons to learn. Sometimes it takes someone with a fresher perspective to open up my own.
7. Enjoy it while it lasts!
College is such an odd time in your life. You get to explore yourself and the world around you in such profound ways, and it ends so quickly. I am 37 days from graduation, and I can’t believe where all the time went. As I look back, I can honestly say that I am a better person for having gone here. I have grown so much, and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished. Treasure the time that you have because before you know it, you’ll be a senior looking back on your own orientation day.
Go into your freshman year filled with the hope and wonder that will allow you to get the most out of college. Make mistakes and learn from them. Forgive others and discover your passions. And most of all, learn to believe in yourself.
Best of luck in everything you do!
Swarthmore College Class of 2015