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A letter to my freshman self

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AUGUST 19, 2015

Dear freshman Jamie,

Look at you, 17 years old and ready to conquer the world, come hell or high water. That fresh, optimistic outlook you have while attending community college straight out of high school is something you should try to maintain; trust me — it will last about two days after you transfer.

Your two years in community college will include some of the best experiences of your life. You will establish lifelong friendships, learn how to ask for help and learn how to be independent.

At some point, however, you’re going to realize that people are fallible. Learn to forgive others and yourself more, as it is a mistake to believe you’re always right. At the same time, you should create standards for yourself when it comes to whom you have relationships with. It’s OK to be selective with friends. You deserve to be around compassionate people who challenge you to be better. You deserve to feel appreciated and loved, but also understood. Without people who understand your process, you’ll never feel like you belong.

I know you have an elaborate plan for success, but what you’ll never consider is how transferring into a huge university will affect your psyche. In many ways, coming to UC Berkeley as a junior felt like reverting to a freshman, except I lost the optimism I had that pushed me through community college. It’s difficult to be labeled a junior when you don’t know your way around campus or even where to get lunch, but you have to be open to feeling lost if you ever want to be found.  

There’s a sentiment floating around that transfers have it easier, that being a transfer student also makes you less of a UC Berkeley student. This will hurt you a great deal. But you know what you’ve gone through and how hard you’ve worked. And it’s not like simply attending UC Berkeley bestows you with honor, either. The only reason you would feel like less of a Bear would be if you didn’t take advantage of what UC Berkeley has to offer and instead succumb to inactivity.

It is so important that you don’t get scared into stagnation once you transfer. Many peers and counselors advised me to take it slowly during my first year in order to “adjust,” and this stalled a lot of my dreams for the future. The “adjustment” period is plain bullshit. It is an overplayed trope used to prevent people from putting themselves out there. You have only two years to take advantage of this beautiful town filled with amazing treasures. Don’t waste time, stifled by the fear of failure. Go all in: Take challenging classes, go to office hours, and buy those Birkenstocks.

Don’t wait until your senior year to get yourself out into the Berkeley community. You need to immerse yourself in culture, nature and people. Don’t be afraid of Berkeley people. Some people will possess brilliance beyond any measure of your own, and that’s OK. Some will confuse you. Some will really confuse you (and that’s OK, too).

All you need is to keep doing what you’re doing. It will get you into UC Berkeley, and it will get you through it. Advice from someone else can never truly quell what you know is right in your heart, even advice from your future self. If this letter is perturbing, you can just disregard it. You have great instincts and intellect. All the mistakes you made will become important lessons, so nothing is ever inconsequential. You’ve got this.

Love always,

An older, wiser and more refined you

Contact Jamie Nguyen at [email protected].

AUGUST 19, 2015