I am a 2014 graduate of Princeton and was a four-year member of the Princeton Women's Varsity Swim Team. One of our traditions is for graduating Seniors to send a final email of farewell and advice to our teammates. This was my email, and it is dedicated to my friends and teammates who helped me through triumphs and trials. Whatever great college or university you are attending, and whether or not you are an athlete, I hope you find some useful pieces of advice in this email.
Final emails to the list have always been something I really looked forward to and enjoyed. Throughout my senior year I kept a list of what I would say when this time finally came. There are topics I've missed and observations others may not agree with, but here are my major takeaways from the past four years. I don't have a younger sister, but if I did, this is what I would tell her, and what I wished someone would have told me. I won't lie. It's long, and filled with advice I didn't always have the foresight or maturity to follow. I hope you read it now and again later when you need something.
Best of luck to all of you! It was a privilege to get to know each of you and an honor to call myself a member of this team.
1. Email your professors asking for the syllabus in advance. Introduce yourself, explain that you are an in-season athlete and that you are excited to take the class and want to get ahead. This is critical for a number of reasons. First, when you email them during the semester asking for an appointment to discuss a paper, this email will pop up and it will make a great first impression. You won't be the kid who joined at the last second and doesn't care; you already stand out. This is also important if, God forbid, you need an extension, because that request won't be your first contact with the professor. Second, you can buy the books you will need for class from websites like Amazon used and for much cheaper price than at Labyrinth. If you do choose to get ahead for your classes, you can read at a much more relaxed pace than you can during the year. There is so much to do at Princeton that reading ahead is never a bad idea.
2. Take small classes, seminars when you can. They are key to a great Princeton experience. In total, I took 8 Politics seminars, and I wouldn't change that for anything. I made close friends in my classes, which is not possible in a lecture hall. I got to know my professors really well and I was forced to do the readings and participate every week. Because the group is so small, professors are also more likely to give the group extra favors: cookies in class, dinners at prospect house, notable guests and altering the readings on the syllabus to fit the interests of the group. I had a professor Sophomore year invite our entire class of nine students to prospect house for dinner with Daniel Ellsberg and another change three weeks of the syllabus after she discovered our class was much more interested in reading about the Gulf War than the theory-heavy readings originally assigned. There is also no grade deflation in these seminars. These classes are some of my best memories of Princeton.
3. Stay in touch with your professors as much as possible. Some are very good about staying in touch with students, and others aren't. They can write you letters of recommendation, help you figure out your next steps and recommend you for positions and jobs. The most unlikely people can have the biggest impact on your life.
4. Go abroad during the summer. Princeton has amazing opportunities to study and work in countries all over the world as well as tons of options for stipends and scholarships for those who pursue them. There will never be a better time in your life to try something completely different for two months on someone else's dime. Not only will you get work or school experience, you will also get to live a colorful, different, challenging experience you will never forget. Learn how to deal with an Austrian cab driver trying to overcharge you by 100 euros, a homeless man taking up residency in the shared bathroom of your French dorm or what to do when the boats in Greece "don't feel like running today" and you have no options for where to stay. The anecdotes from your adventures will remain funny at parties and interviews for years to come.
5. Pick your major or the topic of your independent work based on your interest, not on perceived prestige. If you are passionate about what you are doing, the readings, the research and the all-nighters are a hundred times easier. It doesn't matter if you are the only person interested in it. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me "What are you going to do with a degree in Politics" I don't think I would have needed to work next year. Things happen for a reason. Follow your passion and opportunities follow. Details work themselves out.
6. You are making an active choice every day to be a member of the team. It's an honor and a privilege afforded to very few. Teammates aren't friends; they are family not by blood but by choice. You don't need to be best friends with everyone. You do need to treat everyone with the dignity and respect that they deserve. Like family you will fight. Episodes of conflict handled correctly lead to stronger relationships after resolution. No one should ever play us off each other or get between us. We don't have time for Judas.
7. There will always be someone faster, prettier, funnier, better-connected or receiving better grades. While you might look at them in awe, recognize that the persona they exude either in person, through reputation or social media is not always a true reflection of their life. Everyone has had or currently has something they wish they could change or that burdens them.The individuals who look perfect are almost never in your inner circle. Things look perfect from far away because we can't see the details that cause pain. That really pretty, popular girl you see at campus center sometimes might have a really hard time getting out of bed every morning and is thinking about taking time off. A façade of "having it all" does not produce a guaranteed level of happiness each morning. It's better to be you.
8. At some point during your four years you will wake up one morning with regrets. Everyone has a moment where they say or do something that doesn't match with how they perceive themselves or how they want to be perceived by others. For the next day or few days it will plague your mind. I'm sorry. Try to keep your head down and get through it. Remember that you are the one who thinks most about your drama or struggle. People spend much of their time consumed with thoughts about themselves; they don't have the time to be consumed with judgment about you. Everyone has a moment where it all crumbles; some are more obvious than others, but it will happen to everyone. Most of the time people only remember how you act afterward.
9. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Your mistakes do not define you unless you let them. Learn from them. Apologize when and if you're wrong. Swallow your pride when something is more important. Forgiveness is golden. Life is too short to stay mad, and that anger distracts you from the next chapter. The future is always a promise, never a threat. You have bigger things than you ever thought possible waiting for you in the wings.
10. Don't define yourself or your happiness by someone else. You have to be happy with what you have to offer the world first. Life is made richer with more people and personalities in it. You are never too old to make new friends. Introducing new people into your circle can completely change your outlook and trajectory in life.
11. Call your parents. Keep your mom or dad informed and don't always sugar coat it. She is one of the best resources you will ever have. She may not always love what you have to say or what you have done. She will love you unconditionally and offer advice that is in your best interest. This is rare and should be recognized as such. It's much easier to call and tell her about a few small problems then to wait months and call her when you reach a breaking point at 2 a.m. and want to take time off from school. Perfection and ease are a myth. A duck may move gracefully on top of the water but it's paddling like hell below it. Be real with those who you trust and who help you.
12. Never let anyone tell you that you don't deserve what you want. If you work hard enough and take chances you can make anything happen. Limitations are for the weak minded who need constraints to operate. I don't care if you finished freshman year with straight C's. If you decide tomorrow that Harvard Business School or an elite job at Google or McKinsey is your calling, then you will forge your own path there. It may not be conventional, and it may take you more time, energy or creativity than the kid sitting next to you, and that's fine. You may have to eventually create your own start-up, compete and buy out the competition. But hey, now you work at Google and the smart-ass kid who told you that you weren't good enough is going to wake up to an email explaining that he now works for you. Sometimes the best response is no response and the best revenge is always massive success.
13. Take rejection in stride. During my Sophomore year I applied to 64, yes, sixty-four, internships before getting an offer. Yes, it was frustrating. It took a toll on my self-esteem and made me question my ability to be a productive member of society, and that's okay. I learned that many team members "enjoyed reading my resume and wished me much success with my continued job search." I also learned how to write a decent cover letter after extensive practice. Let me know if you need help.
14. Mistakes happen. While working in Sweden I prepared a security briefing on a Russian military training mission that may (or may not) have flown extremely close to Swedish airspace. I translated the research materials from Swedish to English and then presented before a few members of the press and experts. Halfway through my presentation a guy stood up to tell me that I was wrong, Sweden's informal alliance was referred to as the Baltic 'Pact' not 'Pack,' undermining any meager credibility I held as 21-year-old American intern. After turning bright red I made a joke about the Nordic countries roaming around like a pack of wolves and continued. The guy ended up emailing me when he came to the States and I took him to lunch at Cannon. He wore a Harvard tie. Some people never change. When you fall, laugh and stand back up. The fumble might get their attention, but it's resolve under pressure that they remember.
15. Someone is going to break your heart, and it's going to hurt. It could be a best friend that betrayed your trust or genuine rejection. I'm sorry. Do your best to keep everything else going. It's going to hurt in the short term, but it's their loss in the long term. Rejection breeds both opportunity and motivation. How else would Elle Woods have gotten into law school? Remember who was there for you when you needed it the most. Loyalty to friends in need is the most revealing virtue.
16.Women's team events produce better memories than the actual nights out. I don't care if a sorority is having endless champagne or if you got an invite to some exclusive fraternity/men's team event elsewhere. It might sound cool to say you are going or that you were invited. You will never feel more loved or elated than you will screaming all of the words to Timber with 35 of the closest friends you will ever have. Except if you win Ivies. That overpowering tingling feeling of being a part of something larger than yourself is rare. Don't squander it. Most pass through Princeton or even life without ever experiencing it.
If you need something, call me. I won't pretend that I will always have the right answers, but what I lack in wisdom I make up for in anecdotes. You won't have to face it alone.
We're all on our way out. Act accordingly,