A letter to my girls leaving for college.

To my girls,

            How I wish I could sit and talk with every one of you before you go.

            All I want is a few moments with you before you jet off to arrive in your new life - heart aflutter, knees shaking, walking into a whole new world. That is not possible, so I wanted to write you a letter. Forgive me as I try to pack in a few things I would share with you over coffee.

            I am so thrilled for you to start this new chapter and head out on this new journey. I am excited for you to make new friends and go on fun adventures and learn a million new things about life. This is an incredible time - savor that excitement and the smell of all your fun new things and the awesomeness of all the unknown about to unfold. I know you are looking forward to the newness of it all and meeting people and nights spent staying up late with nobody except yourself to enforce rules. This new beginning is a great celebration. I know you are thrilled to celebrate!

            And I know that you are nervous, too. I know you are nervous about finding friends and fitting in, about classes and doing well in your studies, about what it will be like to be away from home. The thing about being nervous is -- it is perfectly normal. I have never heard of an 18-year-old who left home and wasn't a little nervous. You are in good company -- everyone moving into your dorm has spent a little time wondering or worrying about these things. Know that you are not alone in this, and that all will be well.

            Please also know that college is not the time in your life for "fitting in." College is a time for you to be you. Perhaps you don't know who "you" is...in that case, now is a beautiful and fantastic opportunity to find out more about yourself and who you are - what you like and don't like, what drives you, what you are passionate about, and more. In this search and all your growth, there will be plenty of people who may try to shape you into the person they think you should be. Perhaps that could be your roommate, friends, or boyfriend. Do not listen to that noise. Don't ever listen to that noise. Don't let anyone talk you into doing something you don't want to do or being someone you do not wish to be. I know too many people who wish they had chosen different friends or different relationships because they felt pressured to be someone they were not or be involved in things they didn't want to be involved in. Girls, be who you are. If people don't accept that? Move on and search for people who do. Don't ever feel like you are stuck with the friends you have. Cultivate friendships based in real and true values - not surface junk that makes up so many "friendships" these days. In college, there are plenty of people for you to introduce yourself to and plenty of wonderful friends to be made.

            As for dating in college, this is not high school any more. You deserve to be pursued! You should be taken on dates (however simple they may be on a college budget), and boys should act like men. If you keep the bar set low, they will certainly meet your standards and expectations. But if you keep your standards high, you will give the males around you the opportunity to rise to the occasion of dating an amazing girl like you. Many will not - some will. Don't be overly concerned with getting any certain boy to like you or getting in a relationship. If that happens, wonderful. If it doesn't, just have fun and enjoy this time you have to yourself! Don't spend your time in a relationship you know is bad for you, either, for any reason. I did that for far too long and it is a great regret of both my college experience and my life.

            And you know all those people at the "parties"? Plenty of them are there with the false notion that they must go and get drunk or do drugs to fit in or have fun. And really, that is just pathetic and very sad. So much of the so-called "college experience" centers around this and it can foster so much more bad than good in your heart and in your life. There are thousands of fun things to do in college other than go to parties or get high. I can promise you that.

            As for me, I will not soon forget my college experience - the sights, the sounds, the late nights spent putting news stories together, the incredible amount of Golden Grahams I consumed. I will never forget how crazy it was that no one was making me go to class; I got to choose to go! I will always remember skating around campus at night and studying in the underground library. I will not soon forget how much I loved going to women's studies class and learning about the history of women in America, along with so many of my fun journalism classes. I will never forget the passion the people around me had for journalism and for telling stories. I loved how welcome I felt at the Newman Center, and peace flooded my life when I started going to the daily Mass they offered at noon in the campus chapel for students (I highly recommend you find the one they offer on your campus!). On the other side of things, I will also never forget when 3 months into freshman year a girl in my math class had to tell us she got pregnant at a party and had decided to leave college. Nor will I ever forget the pretty blonde girl who was unconscious on the walkway at night being tended to by paramedics because she drank too much. I saw a number of people fail out of school and I also saw many people excel in their major. I met people who were so kind and inclusive to others and I met people who never had a nice thing to say about anyone. I saw so much good and so much bad during my time in college - and when it comes down to it the most magnificent thing I learned is that I always got to choose. You get to choose, too.

            And with a full heart I hope and pray that you choose to remember your worth. Do not for a moment forget how valuable, loved, beautiful, and smart you are. And if you ever fail to remember these things, don't be hard on yourself. Life is a learning experience and no one gets it all correct. Love God, love others, and love yourself. I am so excited for you on your new adventure, and I am still here for each and every one of you if you ever need me.

Lots of love,