Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 21, 2024

Letter to my freshman-year self

By GABRIEL LESSER | February 15, 2024

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COURTESY OF GABRIEL LESSER

Lesser, a graduating senior, reflects on his years at Hopkins.

Dear my freshman-year self,

I’ve thought a lot about you recently as I approach graduation.

It’s my last semester of college now, and I don’t know how to feel, nor how to process any of my emotions about concluding my time here at Hopkins. I’m proud of how far I’ve come at this school, yet I’m also filled with an overwhelming feeling of panic when I think about having to graduate and move on to my next endeavors. There is so much that I still want to do and not enough time to accomplish it all.

I remember being you, my younger self, and thinking it was so cliché when the upperclassmen would tell you to cherish and enjoy your time in college — how it goes by so fast. While I would have laughed in their faces at the time, I’ve now reached the final stretch and realized that my time here has moved so much faster than I’ve ever imagined. It might have started slow, but the pace revved up — and I hadn’t realized how much time had passed until looking back now. 

As I reflect on my time here, I’ve thought a lot about what I would say to you. 

I’d like to start by saying: Stop thinking so much about the future. 

Stop worrying about what comes after college. Live in the moment, enjoy the present and focus on the here and now. There’s only so much that you can control, and if you think too much about things that are out of your control, it’s going to overwhelm you and make you more anxious. Instead, focus on what's directly in front of you and the little excitements of your week-to-week routine — whether it be coffee with friends, a spontaneous movie night or a Saturday morning walk to the 32nd Street Farmers Market.

Utilize your support system and savor the time with the people around you. Even as classes begin to inundate you with work and assignments, sometimes the best method for success is to take a deep breath and just laugh off the stress with the people around you.

Next, it’s good to be ambitious. I’m glad you’re interested in so much and want to explore all your opportunities. Since the start of freshman fall, you were already fascinated by interdisciplinary learning — majoring in Neuroscience and Romance Languages whilst on the pre-med track (little did you know, you’d add a third major along the way: Medicine, Science, and the Humanities). 

Nevertheless, while I’m glad you’re ambitious, remember to not be overly ambitious. Remind yourself that you are still human, and even as you try to reach for the stars, you deserve rest. Leaving something behind or letting something go, whether it be a class or an activity, does not make you a failure or any less worthy of success. 

It’s completely all right to change your mind about things and to reconsider certain classes, activities and extracurriculars. Plans change, and so do people. It's a natural part of college. Prioritize the things that make you happy, and let go of the things that don’t. Don’t worry so much about the way that other people perceive you or your decisions. Your opinion of yourself is what matters most, and as long as you’re being true to yourself and making yourself happy, that’s what counts. 

As you take this all in, remember to thank all those who have been cheering you on along this journey. Your family is your biggest support system. You couldn’t have made it here without your sister, and she continues to keep you grounded by offering her helpful advice.

Don’t forget about how your parents will do anything for you. Since freshman year, they have always packed you with an entire pharmacy’s worth of medications and household supplies, taking into account every possible sickness that you could have, whether it be a sore throat or the stomach bug, and making sure you were prepared with anything you could ever need in your dorm room. They’ve driven down to Baltimore countless times, whether it be to help you with moving in and out of the dorms, or to simply visit and keep you company. Remember to show your gratitude and to constantly call the people that you love — a thank-you goes a long way. 

To my current self: I hope you cherish the time that you have left here at school.

I think something that scares me about graduating is the thought of closing a chapter in my life, and how my time here is beginning to feel transient, rather than like a permanent entity. When this semester ends, I won’t be leaving for my next summer vacation or intersession; I’ll be saying goodbye to college for good. 

These last four years have been so memorable, and I feel both happy and comfortable in who I am and in the community that I have formed here. While I’m scared of transitioning into the unknown, I know that even when my community spreads physically beyond Baltimore, the bonds that I’ve formed with friends here will last a lifetime. 

Looking back on it all and thinking about what is important to me, I know that I won’t define myself by an exam I struggled with or a class that I didn’t do well in. I am so much more than that, and as a senior now, I know that I want to be remembered for the things that I love, the experiences that make me happy, the things I’m passionate about and the people I surround myself with.

And I know that even when I close this chapter, there is more to life after graduation, with so many memories and opportunities that still await (and, of course, there will always be Young Alumni Weekend). 

Gabriel Lesser is a senior from Westchester, N.Y. studying Neuroscience, Romance Languages and Medicine, Science, and the Humanities. His column explores his memories, along with his current reflections and the lessons that he has learned.


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