It is crazy to me that I am sitting here, as a senior, writing you this note. My WOA trip in August 2013 feels like last week, and yet as I try to think of what sage senior advice I have for you, I realize I hardly remember the first few months of CMC.
However, there is one part of orientation that I remember vividly. I was sitting in between my parents in McKenna Auditorium, sweating from the terrible orientation heat and the general fear that orientation brings. I don’t remember who it was that was speaking – it could have been someone from Dean of Students, Admissions, or anywhere else. But their call for our participation instantly sent my heart to my stomach, and made my sweaty palms even clammier. And then the questions began. “If you were the valedictorian of your class, stand up.” “What about those of you who will be playing on a varsity sport this year.” “Stand up if you got a perfect score on your SAT.” The questions continued in this fashion, and my butt remained firmly planted in my seat as I found myself meeting exactly zero of their qualifications. I had been a pretty good student in high school who did a lot of things with not very much talent. I played on the JV lacrosse team; I did musicals for four years and never had a speaking role. I loved to try things and participate and make friends, but I definitely wasn’t the kid in high school who was winning awards for academics, athleticism, artistic talent or anything else.
That moment in McKenna was as isolating of a moment as I can remember from freshman year. It occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t meant to be here, or that someone in Admissions had made a mistake. And that feeling carried on beyond McKenna. In Gov 20 and FWS, I would hesitate to raise my hand and make a comment, certain that my fellow classmates had read the reading more closely, understood it better, and could prove wrong anything I might contribute.
As time went on and I became comfortable with classmates and professors, this feeling began to dissipate. I’d raise my hand, I’d participate, I’d ask questions, I’d try out new things I knew nothing about. And then, something would come along and stomp on that confidence. I failed my first Econ Stats test (literally, I got a 29%), I got rejected from ASCMC Exec Board positions, no one would return my calls from the first internship I ever applied to, and about a million other examples of what felt like proof that I wasn’t nearly as qualified as my peers.
It’s been three years since that day in McKenna, and I still catch myself feeling the exact same way. Sitting in an upper-level econ class with classmates and a professor that I’ve known since sophomore year, I still find myself adding an audible question mark when responding to questions that we learned the answers to in Econ 50. The feeling that I’m faking it, that I don’t belong but am instead just an imposter fooling everyone into thinking I should be in a room I can’t possibly have the qualifications for, seems to never fully dissipate.
I thought that only I remembered that day in McKenna, but in conversations with my friends and classmates over the last couple of weeks, it appears this experience was particularly terrifying to many of us, and that the immediate confidence destruction was not limited just to me. Even as seniors, many of us seem to remember that moment as the most terrifying part of orientation.
Here are my words of wisdom to you, Class of 2020: you are not faking it as much as you think you are. I guarantee you that in every class, at every Ath talk and club sports practice, there is someone else there who feels just as out of place and unqualified as you do. It could be the only other freshman at your club meeting, or it could be the senior girl at your Ath dinner table who knows just as little about spoken word poetry as you do.
So I’ll leave you with a piece of advice. Reach out, and talk it out. Whatever you are feeling, it is likely that you aren’t the only person who feels that way. Take comfort in the fact that you are all experiencing this intense, overwhelming, intimidating and exciting place that is CMC together. My best relationships at CMC have come from sharing these moments of intimidation and overwhelmed exhaustion with my friends, and coming to know that I was not the only one who felt this out of place. I realize now that the strength of CMC’s community comes not from its number of valedictorians or athletes or actors but from the support that we as classmates and peers can offer to each other. So lean on your friends in those moments of hardship, and be the friend that people feel supported by when they feel the same way. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that having a community of individuals who do that is worth more to CMC than any amount of high school awards or accolades.