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

A letter to my freshman self: Molly Gahagen

By MOLLY GAHAGEN | May 23, 2024



Gahagan shares what she would tell her freshman self about her college experiences.

Dear Freshman Molly,

You made it! Yes, you read that right; you’re at the end of your four years at Hopkins, and you have come out in one piece!

I remember how you are feeling now: Having spent your entire life in a small town, you are restless and excited to go far. When imagining what you think the college version of yourself will be like, she is everything you are not at 18 — effortlessly successful, self-assured and outgoing (complete with a really cool haircut).

Unfortunately, this version of you does not magically materialize once you enter college. Coming to Hopkins from your tiny hometown is daunting, and entering college during a pandemic does not make it any easier. You spend your freshman year in an endless series of Zoom calls, and you will feel cheated out of the classic experiences of living in a tiny dorm room, eating terrible dining hall food and commiserating with your first-year peers over the growing pains of moving away from home. 

With everything occurring virtually, you will feel frustrated and like you are missing out on opportunities to figure out what you want to study or do in the long term. However, freshman you will make a great decision that will largely come to define your time at Hopkins: You will join The News-Letter during your freshman fall as a staff writer. You will be nervous to join and worried about your inexperience, but you will resolve to try your hand at student journalism.

When in-person activities resume during sophomore year, the highlight of your first day of classes will be attending your first News-Letter general meeting in the Gatehouse as a News and Features Editor. Crowded in the building’s cramped main room every Monday evening, meeting your co-editors and collaborating on weekly production will quickly become your favorite part of the week. Working as part of a team, brainstorming article ideas and interviewing people across the University and Baltimore will broaden your horizons and open your eyes to critical issues and the importance of local journalism.

Major spoiler alert: The highlight of your college experience will be spending your junior year as one of the paper’s Editors-in-Chief. From late nights laying out the pages of the paper to print distribution on the golf cart, being Chief will be equal parts stressful and rewarding. But, you won’t be alone; working with the best co-Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor and staff will make it so that the intensive nature of daily production is always fun. You will eat an inordinate amount of THB bagels and slices of Ribaldi’s pizza, but there won’t be any long-term damage. The experience will be hard, but it will open so many doors for you, and you will learn so much.

Beyond this, you will try new things; some of them won’t stick, but that will be okay. You will try barre classes and give up after a month, but you will have better success running. You might not run the half-marathon you aspired to complete, but you will accept the more gradual pace of progression and complete a 5K. You won’t do all the things you imagine the future you doing, but it will be for the better. You won’t study abroad, but you will have the greatest summer in Washington, D.C. when you intern there, and you will have all kinds of stories to tell.

There will be throughlines: the interests you had as a teen will remain the same. Film will always be your main hobby — and, let me tell you, living through the summer of Barbenheimer will be exhilarating. Even though this interest will remain constant, you will branch out: You will fall in love with European cinema and the French New Wave. I am so jealous that you will get to watch Anatomy of a Fall for the first time with fresh eyes. You will still love reading, and you will read every night before bed. You will never read a book you love as much as A Room with a View, but you will make progress on your to-read list. You may never pick up your copy of Anna Karenina even though you make it your New Year’s resolution every year to read it, but you will eventually finish Doctor Zhivago — fair warning: It will take you four years of sporadically reading it. Most importantly, you will make all kinds of new friends, but your hometown best friends will remain constants in your life, and there will be nothing more rewarding than growing in tandem with them.

Overall, you may never become the idealized version of your future self, but you will have experiences you never thought you would. Your time at Hopkins will not be easy, and there will be rough patches, but it is more worthwhile than you can imagine. Looking back as a senior, there are things I am going to miss, from my favorite professors and familiar faces on campus to the dogs I pass by on my morning walk to class every day. While freshman you is scared of the unknown lying in front of you, your current self is less worried — and, dare I say, excited — about what the future has in store for her. You have so much to look forward to that you don’t even know about yet (including several Taylor Swift albums!), so get ready. 

Best wishes,

Future Molly

Molly Gahagen is from Key Largo, Fla. and is graduating with a degree in International Studies and Political Science and a minor in History. She is a former Magazine Editor, Editor-in-Chief and News & Features Editor for The News-Letter.

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