Each year, when Menlo School welcomes its new ninth graders at the freshman retreat, students are asked to write letters to their senior selves. The letters, which include the students’ greatest hopes and fears about high school, are saved and opened and read during the senior retreat. As the Class of 2017 was preparing for commencement festivities, a few students volunteered to write letters to their freshmen selves, sharing some thoughts, in their own words, about what they wish they’d have known as ninth graders.
Dear Freshman Lauren,
I recently read the letter you wrote to me, your senior self, when you were about to start high school at Menlo. You were long-winded, idealistic, and, yes, very nervous. You included two pages of motivational quotes, a long list of goals including a 4.0 GPA and a desire to start on the water polo team, and even predictions about the four years that lay ahead.
Well, I’m here to tell you: at no point in my Menlo experience did I have a 4.0 nor did I continue with water polo past sophomore year. Most of your predictions did not come to fruition. At first my heart dropped a little when reading the letter—I had disappointed you, my hopeful freshman self—but then I kept reading. You continued, “If you didn’t accomplish all your goals that’s ok. I’m sure you have done a lot in your four years of high school and reached many goals that you didn’t even think about setting for yourself!” At that moment, I felt a deep love and gratitude for you. Not only did you take the time to write an astoundingly thorough letter to me, you gave me permission to deviate from your preferred path before I even had the chance to. You wrote to me like a friend, not a drill sergeant with a whistle and a timer.
Freshman self, you didn’t know me when you wrote that letter, but I knew you when I read it four years later. So I thought I’d write back and tell you about just a few of the unexpected and wonderful lessons you will learn in the next four years.
So, my dear, naive freshman self, I think you wished that I would be completely, unrecognizably different and “perfect” by graduation. But believe me, while I’m different now and while I didn’t accomplish all of your goals, we actually still have most things in common—and I couldn’t be happier about it. Thanks to you, I’ll keep writing to my future selves, and I know we’ll keep remembering the hilariously high expectations, intimidating transitions, and happy mistakes of our life.
Savor friendships with your teachers, try things you’re terrible at (hip-hop!), start a knitting club with no prior experience, and don’t forget to play. Take advantage of everything the Menlo community has to offer and give back everything you have to offer. If you do, you will know Menlo better than you ever thought you could, and you will know yourself better than you ever thought you could.
Lauren Chan graduated from Menlo School in June, 2017. This piece was originally published by Menlo School, and both the school and author granted Challenge Success permission to post.