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A letter to my first-years

September 7, 2019

Elise Steenburgh ’22

A letter to my first-years,

I’m so excited for you. 

I have to say, I didn’t quite know what to expect for your arrival. Of course, I was here for a week doing various RA and HLEC trainings to prepare me, but nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming anticipation I felt for the year ahead. All day, from when I watched you all move into your rooms to talking and getting to know you through our house meeting and welcome party, the feeling kept intensifying. I’m so excited for you.

Honestly, though, I had some worries about being an HLEC. I have all these grandiose ideas and plans for this year, but I was anxious about not being able to follow through or that you guys wouldn’t be interested in them. But you assuaged my worries — you’re all so passionate and willing to try new things, or try your favorite things in a new place. My list of ideas has only grown; tailored to you, because I know you all have the most creative ideas to make this space and this community truly yours. From gardening plans and new artistic adventures to movie screenings and coffee parties, the possibilities are endless. I was also worried about my place in your lives. I grapple with walking the line between being an authority figure and being a friend, between working with you because it’s my job and helping you as a fellow college student.

Can’t I be both?

But as we sat on the floor chatting, I couldn’t stop thinking about how content I was in that moment. Thank you. I appreciate the depth and vulnerability that many of you brought to the space. Although I’m still far from knowing whom exactly you all are, I was glad for the glimpse inside your wonderful and complex minds, hearts, and lives. I look forward to getting to know each of you deeply and genuinely—if you let me. It’s up to you whether I’m just an HLEC or a friend. I appreciated the humor and liveliness as well; it will be a fun year. I also thank you for letting me impart some of my wisdom to you. 

Because I am also worried for you. The excitement I have for you to find yourselves, have an amazing year, live fully, and enjoy new experiences is matched by an equal anxiety that somehow, something will go wrong. Don’t make the mistakes I made my first year. Please don’t let yourself stay in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation. I ask of you, please, let me know, it could save you a lot of stress in the future. I may not have all the answers myself, but I know to whom or where I can direct you to find them.

It’s OK to ask for help—it’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and understanding of your abilities and limitations. Please, take care of yourself. It seems a lot of people talk of self-care as getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and taking time off to relax. But it’s more than that. It’s about feeling, acknowledging, and accepting your emotions and knowing what to do, whom to turn to, and where to go to feel better. And that can take a variety of forms.

Maybe writing positive affirmations helps, maybe it’s calling your parents or friends from home. It could be taking a hot shower, making hot tea, and snuggling up all warm in bed to watch some Netflix. It could be creative or active or intellectual or social. It could be going to the counseling center or asking someone you trust for help. It could be finding someone to talk to and have them just listen. No matter how you do self-care, please do it. I’m here for you too, to listen or talk or provide a space for you to feel comfortable caring for yourself. 

Please do it, because I know the first year of college is hard. Even if you’re confident, on top of the world, and everything seems to be going fine, things are always more obvious in retrospect. Just be aware. If you think it’s just you that’s feeling a bit homesick, or is anxious about making friends and fitting in, or is struggling in a class that you thought you would ace — I promise you, you’re not alone. Even if it doesn’t look like it on the outside, lots of people are feeling the way you are. 

I’m excited for you, so incredibly excited for you to start this new chapter in your life. There are so many opportunities for you here; just remember to check-in and take care of yourself. I hope this is the community you were looking for, and I hope that we can start something new and make it even better than you could have ever imagined. I look forward to getting to know you and watching you grow. 

And while this letter is addressed to you, my new first-years, know that I needed this, too. I needed to say it now, and I needed it back then. 

A letter to myself as a first-year,

It’s going to be OK.

Much love,


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