Dear 18-year-old Camille,
Right now, you’re getting ready for high school graduation. The last few weeks have been crazy – Senior Prom, Senior Retreat, tie-dying shirts for Uniform Violation Day, and Spirit Week. Soak in these moments because as everyone likes to remind you: they are fleeting.
When you sit on that stage at graduation, think of the journey that brought you here and carried you through these last four years. Making the choice to attend this private, Catholic, all-girls high school was undoubtedly one of your most rewarding decisions by far. You know you have changed and you know that your time here was beneficial, even amidst all of the stress that accompanied the rigorous curriculum.
Over the Summer, make some great memories at graduation parties. Join together with your friends and sing “Be A Man” from Mulan, run around in their driveways, take goofy photos on their new MacBooks, and fantasize about the great things that college has to offer. Also, enjoy going to Disney World with your neighbors; that trip is going to be amazing.
College is going to be a change at first, but you’ll find your way – I mean, you already know more than ten people going to the same school as you! Regardless, over the upcoming four years you’re going to pave your way as an individual. You may not really know what Bioinformatics actually is yet, but that’s alright. Trust me, you will find out, and when you do, you’re going to be asked to become the President of the Bioinformatics Club. Yes, you, the girl that doesn’t really like speaking up or leading a group.
During your time in undergrad, you’re going to learn the importance of research in the science field and you and your team will even be published for your research, not just once, but twice. Most importantly, though, you will cherish the bonds that you have made with your professors, mentors, classmates, and friends. All Bioinformatics people seem to have a unique quality to them – some might even say that it’s reminiscent of the Power Rangers.
Unfortunately, going back to coed school isn’t going to be as fortuitous on the dating front as you would’ve liked, but just take all of the guys you encounter as lessons. Yes, that even means the guy that said he wanted to write a song about you after only meeting you for two minutes outside the bookstore, the guy who said, “oh church, I’ve been there before”, and the one that supposedly liked you, but always put you down. I doubt you’re going to take my advice on this and you will continue to beat yourself up and tell yourself that it’s your fault that every single one of these guys doesn’t like you. You’ll shed way too many tears over guys that lead you on, target you because they think you’re too innocent, and are totally not right for you – okay, you get the idea – I’ll save the rest for the book. You will still enjoy college, and you’ll befriend some great guys that at least give you hope. Don’t be disgruntled that you won’t graduate college or grad school with a boyfriend. I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with you, despite how many times you tell yourself that you think there is. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out that part of my life today and it’s not easy. No matter what, don’t let these doubts make you feel bad about yourself.
Preparing to graduate college is going to be one of the most challenging yet defining moments of your life. Though many will encourage you to follow the path of leaving skating behind and pursuing a Ph.D., you must trust your instincts that this isn’t your calling. It won’t be easy, but you will speak up for yourself and you will have support in the end, even though some people will have trouble accepting your choice at first. You’re going to come up with a phrase, “Follow Your Heart, Not Tradition”, and you’re going to want to live by this motto the rest of your life. Hey, you might even want to write a book with that title one day.
After college, you will feel a sense of freedom that you’ve never felt before, but you will struggle with finding balance. Continuing to stay involved with your church’s youth group as a volunteer will help you to not only give back by mentoring high schoolers, but it will allow you to find compassion for yourself as you learn to have compassion for them. Staying connected to your faith will help you realize that it’s time to make a change so you’ll start another part-time job and apply for a local Master’s degree program.
I can’t even explain how much you are going to love graduate school and all of your classmates. You have not lived until you’ve eaten pani puri, celebrated Holi, or taken a ton of selfies with your friends before class. Fun times aside, you are going to get a great education and one of your classmates will actually lead you to your first job. Even though things are actually going to work out perfectly and you will love this job, you will probably stress out way too much about the job search. Camille, I don’t know when you are going to actually stop stressing about things so much… Well actually, I do – September 2018 is when the new journey of personal growth will truly begin. Over the months between then and now, when I’m writing you this letter, you are going to become a completely different person. I just want you to know that despite all of the ups and downs that these next ten years have in store, you will end up being stronger than ever no matter how many bumps you face along the way.
You will experience the loss of Grandma, your dog, three of your neighbors, one of your closest friends from high school because of cancer, and another one of your high school classmates because of domestic violence. You will stop figure skating competitively. You will deal with some financial struggles and fall into a pattern of overworking yourself far beyond the point in time that you are desperate to earn money. You will have panic attacks and occasionally some short-term anxiety and depression not necessarily because you do too much, but because you get too emotionally invested in everything. You will have falling outs with friends, some for reasons you’ll know about and some for reasons you won’t. You will feel like an outcast many times, and you will constantly question why people walk away at the times you need them the most (even when they are the only people going through the same thing as you). Regardless, you’ll learn how to persevere and rebuild yourself every time life knocks you down.
Don’t think that these next ten years are all doom and gloom – there is much to celebrate. You’ll earn many awards and scholarships for your academics, research, volunteer work, and skating. Even though many people will drift out of your life, many others will step into it, and others will turn around and reconnect. You’ll get to visit your relatives in Florida, meet some of them for the first time, and truly connect with your Cuban roots. You will travel across the country for work, go to your first concert (Shakira’s hips do NOT lie), write articles that will be published, and start ballroom dancing. These are just some things, you’ll just have to wait and find out the rest.
So back to you in the present moment – take a deep breath. You can handle these next ten years. Know that the friendships you have now are real even though they might not be the same in ten years. They are memories that you should always look back on with joy because they were, at the time, moments of happiness. When things get tough, reflect on the positive, let go of the negative, and move on. You said it best yourself in your senior quote by selecting Einstein’s words:
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
Your older-and I guess wiser, but maybe not so much wiser-self,