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Advice to myself as a college freshman, 25 years later

August 25, 2016 - Betsy Bethel
Twenty-five years ago today, I moved into Symmes Hall at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for my freshman year of college. I left behind my mother, stepdad, cats and best friends in Florida to return to the Buckeye state, where my ancestral roots run deep and I always felt I belonged. My beloved grandmother died unexpectedly just four days before move-in day, creating a gaping hole in our family and my heart, leaving me questioning whether I should go at all and then determining to soldier on in the knowledge she would want me to succeed.

I was an intelligent, independent young woman pursuing her dream of going to college on an idyllic campus.

Or was I? Just beneath my proud, confident, know-it-all facade lurked fear and self-loathing. Like a losing scratch-off lottery ticket, those first few days in Oxford offered a clean, promising start that, with a few quick rubs, led to revelations, each more disappointing than the last, about myself and the world.

Looking at all the "lows" in my 43 years, I think my first semester of my freshman year was my personal Death Valley.

So I got to thinking today. What would I say to that Betsy if she were sitting across from me now? Here's what I came up with:

1. You are worthy because you were born. Period. There is value in your very existence … and in everyone else's, too.

2. Attending frat house free-for-alls is not as fun as you think it is. Parties with friends and music and dancing are great. Parties with strangers where the goal-at-all-costs is to live out the chorus of an infamous Jimmy Buffett song are, quite frankly, gross. Rise above the scrum of scum.

3. You don't have to be friends with the mean girls just because they live in your hallway. Steer clear while they make each other miserable.

4. Step away from the ice cream machine.

5. Speak your truth. If there's no one there to listen, speak it to yourself, over and over and over again.

6. It is normal to have some lonely times when you go to college 1,000 miles from home and where you know no one. It will not kill you to be by yourself. Face the loneliness with courage. Persevere, knowing this too shall pass.

7. Call your mother several times a week. She misses you more than you can ever imagine. (Hard to believe this was pre-texting, pre-Facebook — pre-email, even!)

I am saying a quick prayer today for all the freshman moving into dorms around the country this weekend. And for their parents. In eight short years, it's possible I will be sending my daughter off to college and perhaps sharing this post with her.

At age 10, however, she swears she's not going to college. She plans to live with me forever. If only she could stay 10 forever. ...


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