Editor’s note: Published in June 2016, A Letter to My Freshman Self is an anthology of 65 personal letters that Notre Dame alumni spanning 60 graduating years up to the Class of 2016 addressed to themselves as freshmen. Edited by Lily Kang ’16 and Ian Tembe ’17, the letters reflect on often complex undergraduate experiences and offer wisdom to help undergraduates make the most of these transformative years of their lives.
Dear Freshman Joanna,
Congratulations on finding a home at Notre Dame! I can confidently say that you have made the right choice. This is not to say that, at times, you will wonder if you did — that is bound to happen. But at the end of the day, this is the place that will develop your mind, your spirit, and your relationships. There are a few things I want you to know before you embark on this great journey. . . .
First, let’s talk about being a student-athlete. This is not for the faint of heart. It will take you a while to find your routine, to discover your place on the team, and to realize that you are not alone in feeling like you are being pulled in many different directions. There is no right or wrong way to navigate this journey that you are on, so be patient with yourself and ask for help. Be confident in your rowing ability and in your ability to be a leader. You will be surprised at how impactful your leadership skills will be throughout your career here; never underestimate your ability to make a difference. Though rowing will always remain in your life, your collegiate rowing career may very well be the last time you are really and truly a competitive rower. The sum of your rowing career will be greater than all of the individual races and meters from which it is comprised. You may not win a national championship during your time here, but you will realize that the authentic bonds you’ve made with your teammates on and off the water will be worth more than any first place finish. In the long run, the race results won’t be nearly as important as the incredible women you rowed in the boats with.
This brings me to my next point: engineering. Like most Notre Dame students, you got straight A’s in high school, made the Dean’s List, and fought for the top spot in the class. So, when you get your first General Chemistry exam back, do not panic. You have made the courageous decision to become a mechanical engineer. It is not going to be an easy road and you will question whether or not it was the right decision more times than I care to admit. However, during those late nights and horribly time-consuming problem sets, you will develop some pretty incredible friendships. You may not remember what the Runge-Kutta Method is, but the smell of popcorn will always remind you of doing engineering homework in the Cavanaugh basement with your closest friends. Unlike the internal energy of a thermodynamic system, college is not a state function — the path is incredibly important. It’s the journey that will give everything you do significance. Spoiler alert: you won’t get an A in Calc II, but you sure will remember how hard you studied for the final to earn that B+. Grades are numbers and letters that are used to quickly categorize a large group of people. They do not define your worth. Listen to your RA: there will be a lot of grades over the eight semesters of college, so don’t lose it over one assignment.
- A Freshman Mailbox
- Scott Morgan ’95
- Ashleigh Renteria ’11
- Chris Stevens ’74
- Joanna Mulvey ’16
- Andrew Weiler ’15
- Grace Meikle ’14
- Shawn O’Grady ’86
You may have already gotten this impression, but I’ll spell it out clearly: the relationships and bonds that you create here are so much more important than the grades you get. Of course, your GPA is important and cannot be ignored, but it should not get in the way of having meaningful conversations and doing things that bring you closer to others and to God. Your textbook will not be a guest at your wedding (whenever that happens), nor will it comfort you during the hard times that will inevitably pop up throughout your college career and in life. That is what your friends and your faith will do. So, before you automatically assign your weekend to all of the homework and studying you need to do between rowing practices, take a moment to plan something that will make you happy and give you an opportunity to make some memories. Stay at the dining hall until it closes, visit your friend’s dorm for Mass and stay a while, go find the free food being given out on Fieldhouse Mall, or just stop at the Grotto when you need some peace and quiet. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate event for it to become a significant memory that you look back on fondly.
Over the next eight semesters, Dad will tell you to “enjoy the ride” approximately 400 times. Around the 327th time, you’ll finally understand what he’s talking about. Take a deep breath, go one step at a time, and enjoy the ride. It’s going to be pretty amazing.
Joanna Mulvey majored in mechanical engineering and was a member of the varsity rowing team. Originally from Poughkeepsie, New York, she now works for GE Transportation.