Madeline Hall is a Senior and the Vice President of the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College.
Letters to freshmen are supposed to give advice to underclassmen on life at CMC in hopes of preventing them from making the same dumb mistakes us sagely seniors made four long years ago. While there are many things I wish someone had told me my freshman fall, such as don’t spend four hours making a sexy trash bag dress for ABC (Anything But Clothes) TNC, or that in college you cannot get away with skipping class as many days as you stayed home “sick” in high school (personal record: 34 absences), this whole “don’t mess up your life freshmen year” concept is complete crap. Let me tell you why.
My freshman year, I was a bit of a wreck. I stayed up for 48 hours straight, got my first C ever, and went through a horrible break up with my long distance high school boyfriend. By the end of fall semester I was miserably homesick and wanted to transfer. I even purposely missed my flight back to campus after winter break. Lucky for me, Papa Hall told me that leaving CMC was not an option and finally convinced me to re-book my flight.
Now I am not going to tell you that the moment I returned to CMC for my 2nd semester, I got my life together and became an instant success. Ha. If only college were a fairytale. Instead I was met with more failure — getting rejected from jobs at institutes and opportunities at prestigious academic programs. But after a while, things started to improve and I learned from my mistakes. I began to change my choices. Slowly and steadily, I grew up. There was never an “aha” moment or a day that I can pinpoint when I realized I loved CMC. Rather, over time, I learned that if I kept trying and didn’t give in, I would eventually succeed.
At first, my achievements were very different than I had anticipated or even wanted. Instead of redistricting for the Rose Institute or learning to manage part of the endowment for Student Investment Fund, I worked at the Dean of Students’ Office as a Community Service Coordinator. Yet, through my experience planning events and helping students give back to the Claremont community, I came to realize that I had failed at almost everything I wanted because I had wanted the wrong things.
From my failures, I learned so much about myself. Now I know that I am not good at microeconomics, I am not destined to work in academia, nor am I ever going to manage anyone’s money. Though I am far from the person I envisioned my freshman year, and though I am still not sure exactly who I want to be in the future, thanks to my many failures, I finally found where I fit in at CMC.
Whenever I messed up as a kid, Papa Hall would remind me that Abe Lincoln lost 100 hundred million elections and failed upwards of 1 bazillion times before winning the Presidential election and becoming one of the most influential leaders in American history. While most historians agree that the number of elections Lincoln lost was actually a tad fewer, his cliché story proves a point: Failure does not have to define you nor will it prevent you from future greatness.
So, class of 2017, my advice is simply: Make dumb mistakes and mess your life up a bit. Wallow in your failure only briefly and then move on knowing that the people who are truly lost are those who think they have a plan.