Four years and one day ago, I graduated from high school. 1, 462 days. Unlike some of my purple-robed peers, I was overjoyed to leave high school behind, once and for all. With acceptance to Meredith College as a Teaching Fellow under my belt, I went forth with confidence. It makes me smile looking at that picture of me clutching my diploma, because I couldn't smile harder if I tried. Upon my graduation, I wrote a note to my freshman self, of all that I wish I had known four years earlier. My advice was solid, and I'd like to think that my eighteen year old self had a pretty strong head on her shoulders. In my first letter, I reminded myself that grades aren't everything, to take care of myself, and to pursue my passions. My overarching theme was to be true to myself, to stand firm in who I am and in what I believe.
A little under a month ago I experienced a different graduation: my college graduation. This time around, the sentiments were different. College was where I met my best friends, studied what I loved, and learned the depths of my own strength. Similar to four years ago, I was eager to graduate, but for all different reasons. Instead of dying for an escape, I was antsy to go out into the world with all that Meredith taught me. So, in the same reflective spirit as four years prior, here is another letter, this time to my eighteen year old self. Whether you are "leaving the nest" for the first time, or you graduated college many years ago, I hope something in these words resonates with you, too.
Congratulations! You did it. Those four years that felt like an eternity are over and done. You can leave them in the past. You are wiser for having experienced hard things, but they don't own you. Although you can't possibly know it now, you'll look at the past with gratitude. You have developed a sense of empathy, a listening ear, and a kind presence that will serve you well in life and ministry. A few years from now, you'll run into people from high school and collectively wonder: Were we ever that young? You feel nervous leaving these halls, because you wonder if you will meet mentors in college that will know and love you as well as some of your former teachers. Those high school teachers will continue to serve as friends and mentors to you, years after you have graduated. One of the defining markers of your college experience will be the professors who know and care about you as a person first, and then a student. You will run into your professors' offices many times, sharing news both good and bad, and they will be there through it all.
You are so excited about starting over; the same city, but a new school and a clean slate. Little do you know, you will meet friends who will turn into sisters. Friends who celebrate birthdays and scholarships and job acceptances. Friends who carry each other when the going gets tough. I wish you didn't want to grow up so fast. Because one Tuesday night the February of your senior year, you'll sit on the floor of your apartment sharing a bottle of pink champagne with your friends. And as you clutch your stomach from laughing so hard, you'll wonder how the time has passed so quickly.
You're scared of the future now, but you have no idea what you're about to accomplish. You can't even begin to fathom the woman you are becoming. You'll present undergraduate research, study in Spain, and get accepted to your top seminary. I hope you will know how much more went into your college diploma than just grades. The growing pains of eighteen and nineteen will grow you and stretch you. You will have nights where you stare at the ceiling tiles in your dorm, wondering when you will feel like an adult. Do you know that the capital P Plans you carefully crafted for yourself will fall apart? Your heart will hurt and you will cry to God in the middle of the night and wonder if He's there. You won't believe it when one of your mentors says that no one has it figured out when they are twenty. It's so scary to throw the plan out the window. Three years later you will preach your first sermon, and it will start to make sense. That tug at your heart you first felt at seventeen? You will try to ignore it (hence, growing pains of eighteen and nineteen), but eventually you'll succumb to that God sized pull at your heart. You will graduate from college as a future minister instead of a future teacher. It turns out that God has bigger dreams for you than you could dare imagine.
A few more thoughts before I sign off. I hope you know how loved you are. The love of God, your family, friends, and mentors will carry and sustain you. Being strong or being brave doesn't mean that you have to go it alone. Continue to ask for help, and give that same help to others. Never stop being amazed by God's grace shown through the kindness of both friends and strangers. When in doubt, open the bottle of champagne. Celebrate the abundance of life, right now. You will have seasons of both abundance and scarcity, assurance and doubt, hope and sadness. Life is a Teacher. Those seasons will teach you about yourself, others, and God, so pay attention.
You'll enter those gates as a girl and exit them as a woman, strong and confident and sure of herself. I am so damn proud of you. Go out into the world with light in your eyes and fire in your heart. I'm rooting for you.