Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 16, 2024

A letter to my freshman self: Isabella Madruga

By ISABELLA MADRUGA | May 21, 2024



Madruga reassures her freshman year self that they will be okay. 

Dear Isabella,

You’ve probably just gotten the news that your first semester at Hopkins, your dream university, will be entirely online — right before your wisdom teeth removal surgery. It sucks, I know. And these restrictions will stay in place for a while. But the pandemic doesn’t last forever. You will get to dance the night away, see your friends’ faces and experience all the unique offerings Baltimore has — eventually. 

You’re both dead set on what you want to do and also have no idea what you are doing. All you know is that you want to be an author and expect to come out of college with a six-figure book deal, right? Something you learn quickly is that college is unpredictable at best and hellish at worst — but it’s not impossible, and you will be able to do it. You shouldn’t come here to only write a book. You should come here to make close friendships and unforgettable memories, and sometimes you will pick going out on the town over staying in and writing. And that’s okay. 

Another thing you will learn is that things will happen in their own time. Everybody has their own path, and while your classmates are doing amazing and impressive things, you are doing something of equal importance: being the first person in your entire family to go to college and learning to be a self-sufficient, independent and good person. All of these are as important as winning an award. I know you don’t believe that — it’s hard to believe it myself. But you’ll soon find yourself amazed at your own critical thinking skills, the fluidity in your speech, the eloquence of your diction, and that is more than enough to prove that your education was worth it.

You make the best of what you can with COVID-19 and the unending construction of a student center you will never be able to experience. You discover all the nooks and crannies of campus, all the shortcuts so you can get to Bloomberg in less than fifteen minutes when you accidentally oversleep. You say yes to everything on campus: five student jobs, countless clubs, a sorority and a large network of friends who all love and care about you, random trips to Inner Harbor, hopping on the bus that takes you all around Baltimore so you can see the good and bad of the city you’ll be living in for four years, studying abroad in Japan. Yes, Japan! You will do so much that it’s hard to believe that I’ve been spending most of my senior spring regretting all I haven’t done. 

You won’t get any awards for Writing Seminars, and this will crush you beyond comparison. You won’t write that Sociology thesis you pondered doing. You won’t get a star-studded internship at some cool company, you won’t present any important research that wins awards, you won’t apply to or win any fellowships, and you won’t graduate with a job. You’ll burn out around the end of junior year after taking more than 15 credits for over two years straight, and you’ll realize you haven’t done any of the hobbies you loved in four years. A stake will drive into your heart every time you open LinkedIn and see your peers doing something unbelievable. But something shifts in your last three weeks as a student, and you realize you’ve earned some rest and relaxation. 

Things get better. Then worse. Then better again. 

One thing you never lose is the support of your community. Your parents are always there for you, and while they may not understand what you’re doing or where you’re going, they are there with open arms when you fall or succeed, and you will do plenty of both. They trust you and are waiting for you to trust yourself. You will have an academic advisor who is indispensable to your transition to college and saves you from countless pitfalls and mistakes. You have friends that come and go. Regardless of whether you will say goodbye to them at graduation or not, they will leave an impact on you so strong that you won’t notice at first. Not until you choose a snack at the supermarket because they recommended that brand to you or a song plays while you’re folding laundry and you’re forcefully transported to the summer night your friend played it nonstop in your car. You might only keep in contact with a handful of friends post-grad, but the life lessons you learned from and with them will stay with you forever.

You have an indomitable spirit, grown from a working-class childhood, reinforced by high school and solidified in college. When you fall down, you will get up. When you’re stuck in a corner, you dig out an escape. You will have setbacks, but triumphs follow soon after. 

My next triumph is graduation, which may seem unfathomable to you. It did to me until this week when the graduation countdown went from years to months... to three weeks. So continue living like college will last forever, live in ignorant bliss. 

It may seem like I’m some venerable sage, and you may be wondering what shift occurs that makes me an adult. But truth be told, I am and forever will be you, a scared but excited college freshman ready to take on the world. I will always be the “new kid,” whether it’s at a job, a friend group or a social club. I will always be learning and growing. I know this may seem daunting to you because you think you’ll wake up someday and “get it,” but you’ll learn that nobody “gets it.” Nobody understands what’s going on, nobody is secure and everybody is a scared college kid bumbling around, learning and growing, forever and ever. 

Keep making mistakes, Isabella Cardoso Madruga. Keep learning and growing. Your future is so bright; you’re blind to its possibilities. This is the only advice I can give to you: You will be okay. I will be okay. We will be okay.



Isabella Madruga is from the Bay Area, Calif. and is graduating with a degree in Writing Seminars and Sociology.

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