Dear freshman Leela,
Four years ago, there was so much unknown. When I think of you (us?) standing on the stoop in Brooklyn, surrounded by all your earthly possessions, waiting for Dad to pull the car around to drive to Baltimore for orientation, I wish I could give you a hug. You’re so nervous about all the classic, first-year things to be nervous about: Will classes be hard? Will you make friends? Mostly, as you stand on the street you’ve lived on your entire life, you don’t know how another place could ever feel like home in the way that Brooklyn does.
Four years later, on the cusp of graduation, a lot of those fears remain the same. The future, once again, is unknown. Now, though, the growing pains I felt leaving Brooklyn are attached to Baltimore and the home I’ve created here. When I think back to myself four years ago, I am so excited for you. You’re about to meet four of your best friends in the whole world and have the opportunity to live with them for three years of college in the quirkiest, loveliest house you’ve ever lived in. You don’t know — yet — about The News-Letter and all the support you will find in its hilarious, dedicated and passionate staff. You don’t know the Gatehouse, and how it will become a central part of your campus life. That isn’t to say that these things will come easily. The transition to college will be difficult, full of homesickness and worry that Hopkins isn’t the right place for you. With the clarity that only hindsight can provide, you’ll learn how worth it sticking it out will be.
There are also unimaginable global events coming soon: Leela in August 2019 had no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic is about to bring all life as she knows it to an abrupt halt. It’s impossible to reflect on my college career without thinking about finishing freshman year from my childhood bedroom in New York or the blur of an entirely-online sophomore year. I won’t dwell on this, though. My college career is inextricable from the effects of the pandemic; the only advice I could give my pre-pandemic self about getting through it is to hold tight to the family and friends (over Zoom and, eventually, in person) that make quarantined life still enjoyable. Appreciate how their love and laughter makes the stress of unprecedented times (groan, I know) bearable, and don’t take it for granted once things open up again, either.
This past fall, I studied abroad in Italy — another incredible experience I can’t wait for freshman Leela to experience. There, I had a conversation with friends that I think about often: Do you think you live in the past, present or future? Solidly, I think that I live in the past. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, for looking through my own camera roll, for morning-after debriefs and daydreaming about the good moments of late. While this makes me appreciate the past (and makes exercises such as writing letters to my past self extremely enjoyable) it makes change and thinking about the future very hard.
I’m happy to report to you, my nervous, first-year self, that classes were challenging but excellent, that I’ve made friends that feel like family, and that Baltimore feels just as much like home as Brooklyn. The community I have here is irreplicable; my friends make me a better version of myself every single day. Trying to think of the future, I know that the love and support I now have in Baltimore is what makes the idea of leaving it behind after graduation so hard. But, it is also what gives me the strength to approach the future with optimism and confidence.
So, freshman Leela: Good luck! Have fun, and enjoy the moment. Also, enjoy the crepes at CharMar while you still can.