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Four Years at the Mount

For this edition we asked out writers to reflect on if they could send a letter back back in time to themselves - what would they say ....

Letters to a younger me

November 2015

Fearless and unapologetic

Elizabeth Veronis
MSN Class of 2019

Dear 15 year old Me,

So you want to know how to survive the cruel halls of high school? First of all, they are not really that cruel; stop picturing scenes from Mean Girls. Nevertheless, I suggest you watch a few episodes of the Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill. Donít just study Serena Van der Woodsenís wardrobe. Trust me, nobody wears couture to class. Most suburban high schools rock a Forever 21 or J Crew vibe. But in your case, you get stuck with the classic plaid skirt and knee socks.

Listen to the wise words of Brooke Davis, "People are gonna label you. Itís how you overcome those labels. Thatís what matters." Still, you might want to dodge the Queen Bees, the Wannabes, the Type A super-strivers and the Burn Outs. Your goal, my friend, is to ditch the drama and focus on flying under the radar. This is not to say that you want to remain invisible all four years. You should leave a footprint, but not necessarily any DNA that could land you on an administratorís watch list, or worse, on a detention detail. This can be tricky, but there is one thing on your side.

As a freshman, you are a blank slate. Take advantage of your low status and say yes as often as possible. Never been on a mogul? So what? Join the ski club. Think you look good in spandex? Sign up for the Dance Club. But whatever you do, donít commit to any one group of friends or any one activity. You donít want to get stereotyped right out of the gate.

Another thing, donít for even one second, believe that high school is going to be the best time of your life. You are still living at home, still getting told just how short your skirt can be, still operating under a curfew, and still unable to sneak out to Starbucks for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Worse, you have to suffer through Western Civ, pretend you care if the football team wins on Friday night, and figure out how to get a date for the Prom.

More often than not, things will work out in your favor. But donít despair when things donít. Believe it or not, everyone needs a few hiccups in life. Just keep them in perspective.

Hereís another thought: try to occasionally think about your future and I am not referring to your plans for the weekend. I am talking about college and beyond. What you do in high school does have an impact on the rest of your life. So donít blow off your studies, tank your mid-terms or always opt for the easiest classes. For some reason, most college admissions counselors frown upon those things.

But donít get too neurotic, either. You get a lot of do-overs in life, so if you screw up, chances are, someone will throw you a net.

Xo,

Elizabeth

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Dear 22 Year old me:

Remember Nathan Scottís words?: "One day, youíre 17 and youíre planning for someday. And then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today. And then someday is yesterday. And this is your life." Well hey-- here we are. Say goodbye to your childhood, kid. Your extended adolescence is over. Donít believe me? The first payment on your student loan is due in exactly six months. So hereís hoping those summers you languished as an unpaid intern start paying off.

You did log some quality time at career planning and placement, but I donít blame you for feeling anxious. You started college as an undeclared major. Who are we kidding? You would have marked the "completely clueless" box had that been an option. So congratulations on your progress. You found an area of interest, a path that held some promise. Hopefully, you came by it deliberately, after being exposed to lots of different disciplines and many different viewpoints. Thatís what you were hoping for when you opted for a true liberal arts education.

But unfortunately your degree doesnít come with a GPS for life. You will have to figure out how to parlay that, and all of your other experiences, into a career. I know you are seeking something that will give you purpose and meaning. Wouldnít it be great if you got that right off the bat? Alas, that probably wonít be your experience.

You may very well find your first job dreadfully dull. But you can take solace in the fact that you will probably have 15 to 20 jobs in your lifetime. Thatís the expectation for the average Millennial, who isnít afraid to job-hop or switch up careers. So, donít worry if you have one or two false starts, or even three or four.

But have reasonable expectations, too. You want pay equity and rapid promotions and you are willing to delay marriage and childbirth to get it. Good for you! But there is no such thing as having it all. Balance is always elusive and something or someone is always getting shortchanged. Donít lose your optimism or your confidence! You havenít been beaten up by life yet. So be fearless and unapologetic. Ask for what you want.

Sometimes what you want will be help, and you shouldnít be afraid to ask for that, either. You arenít expected to know it all, now or ever. Remember that your education continues and so does your obligation to serve those who have less than you: less money, less opportunity, or less ability. You have been the recipient of much love, support, and prayer.

This will continue. So donít get too neurotic over this stage of your life, even though it is scary and uncertain and in a constant state of flux. And hey, if you screw up, someoneís bound to throw you a net.

Read other articles by Elizabeth Veronis


Sincerely, me.

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

Dear Sarah (ver. 2011),

So high school is great, isnít it? That was sarcastic, as you know. I wish I could tell you that it becomes more exciting, but, alas, I cannot. However, you also know it is not all bad. Though these are not the best years of your life, they are certainly not the worst and it gets better.

College is wonderful and I am not sure if you have considered it yet, but I am planning on studying abroad. I hope to go to London because, I am sorry to tell you, you do not improve in foreign language so it is best to stick with English-speaking countries.

I wish you (well, I) could actually read this. If you could, I would tell you that whatever daydreams you are having are going to grow and evolve into wonderful stories, and that you really should start working on them because trust me, if you donít, that nasty procrastination habit will NOT get better.

A great many things have happen in the past four years. You actually get a part in a musical (it goes well, don't worry), you manage to get a scholarship, your passion for writing increases and you even get a small job at a newspaper. Another big thing is that your sister (well, our sister) is getting married in a few months...yeah, I know, weird right?

You change a bit too. It's not too much, and probably not very noticeable to others, but you do and it is all for the best.

See you in four years!

Sincerely,

Me

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Dear Sarah (ver. 2019),

I have no clue what you are doing right now or how much has changed, will change, in the next four years. By your clock, Katie has already been married a few years and I pray that we did not make a fool of ourselves during the maid-of-honor speech. How well did we do in school? We better have studied abroad. If so, it was probably spectacular and I cannot wait to have the memories you already have.

I wish I could ask, "What are you doing right now?" and get some kind of response. If you could respond, I would also ask if we will travel and if so, where? What kind of people will we meet? What kind of person will we become? And what, pray-tell, are the next winning lottery numbers?

I wish you could give me a summary of the next four years. I know that it will probably be worth the surprise, but I am impatient and you know how we are when it comes to surprises. However, I guess I have no say in the matter. Let me just make it clear that you have better finished writing at least one of the books I have started. If you have not, then consider this a letter from yourself to get going!

Speaking of things you have done or should do, I wonder how many items you have crossed off our list. Have you been an extra in a movie or been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? What about learning to ice skate? Have you become (miraculously) fluent in a language or gone to see the pyramids? (That last one is a bit of a stretch, all things considered).

I don't know what you are doing or even what I want you to be doing. Well, that is a bit of a lie. I know I would want you to still be writing and at least be almost done with one book. However, life changes and gives us both blessings and challenges and I understand that sometimes we must adapt. I am still figuring things out and, right now, you know more than I do.

I would love it if you are happy wherever you are and that you have someone to share it with (even if you don't that's fine too). Even though you are four years older and four years wiser, we are the same person (literally). If I know myself at all, I know that I have not changed on the important things.

Whatever happens between then and now, from the person I am and the person I will become, I know that the mistakes that I will make, that you have already made, have created who we are and who we will be. Wow! Dealing with past, present, and future tense is headache inducing.

Anyways, I am eager to meet the person I am going to become and I hope to have a fun time getting there. See you when I see you!

Sincerely,

Me

Read other articles by Sarah Muir


The only constant is change

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

It is October 21, 2015 Ė the day I anxiously anticipated 10 years ago while watching Back to the Future for the first time. 4:13 pm has come and gone and Marty McFly has (unfortunately) not shown up anywhere in the world, but I do get to do some mental time travelling of my own.

Four years ago today, I was a junior in high school and I can almost guarantee I was sitting in the journalism room, room 201, staring at a computer screen, adjusting a yearbook layout. If I wasnít there, I was just finishing up field hockey practice near the end of my favorite season as my favorite coach was preparing to leave for another school.

In some ways, I thought everything I was doing was preparing me for my future. I wanted to be the editor of a big time magazine and I wanted to play and coach field hockey. Therefore, I spent copious amounts of hours in room 201 at my personal computer, roaming around with my camera, and sitting around our discussion table in editing meetings trying to create the perfect yearbook and finally get some recognition in the yearbook world.

Later that year when we attended our conferences, I wanted to be in a place where I was ready to take over for senior year and get into a school with a stellar graphic design and journalism program. I was also preparing for a future in field hockey with all the best coaches and off-season programs.

Iím here to say now, all of those dreams peaked during that year. Realizations of the changing media world and injury upon injury led me away from both dreams and I spent the next few years with no solid career goal. But as a 17 year old, I was sure knew what I wanted.

Now I am an almost 21-year-old English Lit and Secondary Ed major, preparing for a career as an Army officer, anxiously planning trips to Haiti, and I really love fitness. I am not at all where I thought I would be Ė my passions, goals, and even my daily activities are entirely different. I still play field hockey and love media and journalism, but I donít do either to the extent I used to dream about.

Sometimes I wonder if I would be as happy if I had stuck with the same dreams, and because I still am very unsure if my future, I often think I would be. It takes some time, but I always realize that simply because my passions and goals have changed, does not take away any importance of old goals nor does it diminish the fire behind the new ones. I am blessed to have had things in my life that I have felt so much passion for over the years, and I wouldnít be surprised if they continue to change to fit my life in the upcoming years.

I truly miss intense field hockey games, nine hour designing sessions, constantly being behind a camera, and getting a layout just right; but as much as I miss this, I love everything I do now. I love waking up in the mornings for PT, as much as I may complain about it, I love the feeling of a new PR in the gym, traveling and working in places I never saw myself before, forming relationships with kids who inspire me more than anything, discussions about a text or an issue, and having time to grow and explore everything around me.

So a lot has changed and the idea that it will continue to change is, I must admit, pretty scary. Now I have to consider my life four years from today. To this, I laugh Ė I donít have a clue. It might be the state of my nervousness, but I feel like Iíve been asked to write about my future quite a few times recently. Maybe I should take that as a sign and figure it out, but instead Iím still kind of laughing at the idea of myself in four years, because I could be anywhere.

In about five months Iíll make the decision whether I want to go Active Duty or National Guard. Five months. Does everyone realize how soon that is? Because I certainly didnít until about five minutes ago when I looked at the date again. I will make that decision, and the rest of my life will be determined from that single choice. If I choose Active Duty, I will be a full time Army Officer in four years. Iíll most likely be a first lieutenant, but I have no clue where in the world Iíll physically be. If I choose Guard, well you got me there Ė imagine my nervous laughter once more Ė I have no idea. Iíll have a degree allowing me to be a high school teacher, but Iím leaning more towards the missionary field. So it will be as much of a surprise to me as it is to you when I finally make that decision.

I joke about the nervous laughter and the fear I have about my future because it is all just a little terrifying, but if the next four years go anything like the last four, Iím sure it will turn out okay in the end. I have learned that goals change, passions develop, and relationships can alter your views, but as long as I love what Iím doing, I will be happy and I can only hope that I will always have the common sense and strength to value what I love and put it at the center of my life. If I do that I am certain that the latter half of this eight-year span will go as well as the former.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary


Don't blink

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

Past Katie,

I don't even have to ask what you are doing right now, because I already know: you are sitting in the back of your AP English class, senior year of high school, thinking about how badly you want to get out of your town, go somewhere where nobody knows your name, and start a new life. College will be the best, you tell yourself.

That is when your life will really begin.

I am urging you to change that mindset. You are wasting so much time waiting to start your life that you are forgetting to live it. Life doesn't begin at 18. Life has already begun. I know it seems silly, especially to you, in all of your teenage angst and senioritis, because how could one be alive without living? But you would be surprised.

Think about all of those times you have said, "I can't wait for . . ." or started counting down the days to an event, or planned your life out rigidly (and don't lie to yourself. I know how you think). Think about all of those days you skipped over, daydreaming about graduating high school. Think about all of those little moments spent with friends that you missed out on because it seemed insignificant at the time. Those are your memories. Don't let them pass you by.

Life is too short to let fear guide you. I know that you think "fake it till you make it" is a better approach than admitting you are unsure, but you forget that failure is a natural step toward success. Admitting failure is not the same as admitting defeat. Instead of shying away from it, you should embrace it because you are an amazing person with a great deal to offer to the world. Do not be afraid to make mistakes, and do not be hesitant towards taking chances because you are afraid of failure. Shortcomings are part of successes, and shortcomings often teach you more. So embrace them, analyze them, and then do better next time.

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Future Katie,

I can imagine you are working full time nowóyou are 25 years old, out in the real world, maybe you saved up money and are living in a swanky apartment in the city (ooh, high roller). Maybe you are still living at home (economic, I like it). Either way, I cannot even begin to imagine what your life is like.

I am sure you look back all the time and think that I have it easy (well, its 8:30 pm and I am in bed so, yeah I kinda do). I hope for the life of me that some of the things that are dear to you now are not things you have abandoned in your pursuit of success.

First of all, I hope you haven't forgotten the importance of spending time with your friends. I can imagine that graduate school was hard and that the habit of isolating yourself to study will die hard as you attempt to regain familiarity with sunlight, birds chirping, and other standard sounds that are significant to a hermit. I know you are passionate about your work and the people you meet and collaborate with, but I hope that is not your whole life. I hope you still remember to take time for your loved ones.

Remember, life is not a sprint. Don't rush into marriage, or children, or anything like that. Take your time and enjoy each adventure as it comes! Experience life as a young professional, living in the city. Travel the world. Learn to knit or sew or do yoga to make you slow down and enjoy life. The early bird may get the worm, but slow and steady wins the race (or something like that).

Please do not take life to seriously, because as Uncle Bob loved to say: no one gets out alive. Your career is important. You help change lives. But you still need to stay grounded. Have fun, and improvise at times. Remember those little moments that seemed insignificant, but later proved to be some of your best memories? Hold on to those, and never stop making new ones.

Never stop trying to make the world a better place. I know you have heard the inspiring Dr. Seuss quote many times, but, as the Lorax said, "unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to bet better. It's not."

As I sit here, I remember your first experience observing an occupational therapist, and the passion and pride you felt watching the children leave each day. Remember that on good days and bad, you make a difference. Remember that you can change the world.

The best advice I can offer you is this: whatever you do, don't blink. Life is hectic and sometimes days and weeks fly by without noticing. I am sure you remember senior year going by at the speed of light. I wonder if you've ever looked around your office and thought that just four short years prior, you finished your undergraduate degree. I hope you do. I hope you take those moments in, hold on to them close, and allow that moment to take all of its time passing over you.

Do not lose your passion for life. It is a beautiful, strange, and fragile gift, and nothing should ever come between you and the life you want to live.

Read other articles by Katie Powell

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