A Letter to My Freshman Self: Call Your Mom

Author: Shawn O'Grady '86

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 Shawn,

Congratulations on getting into the school of your dreams. I know you put a lot of work into getting here, so, well done. Okay, now that we have that behind us. . . .

Don’t worry about how hot it is. You will acclimate soon enough. I hope you packed the two fans that were in the basement. They won’t break down yet for another three days. Have a backup plan.

Orientation is about to begin, so I wanted to try to give you a few tips before the tidal wave of “things you need to remember” start flooding in.

Yes, mom and dad will leave soon. If you can hold out for 24 hours, you shall soon have your freedom.

I decided a “top 10” list of things to know would work for you . . . since you like numbers. So here we go:

10. You don’t have to experience everything in the world on the first night of freedom. Trying chewing tobacco for the first time may seem like a good idea, but I’d pace yourself. Four years to go.

9. Give your roommate a shot. Yes, I know he seems weird. Imagine how you seem to him?! Most importantly, get a sense for whether or not he is a morning person (think engineer) or a night person (think liberal arts). Get that straight and you are home free. Neither of you are “the admissions mistake.”

8. Map the territory. Go to every room in your hall and introduce yourself. Don’t be a dork about it. Just cruise around. Be observant. In the end, having friends in lots of places is a roadmap for four years of fun and success — works in the real world too.

7. Find the chapel — best place to escape when the noise (real or just in your head) gets too loud. God will bail you out more times in the next four years than anyone else. Well, maybe God and your best friend . . . it’s a close call. Tie goes to God.

6. Don’t leave food out. Three possible outcomes . . . none good.

5. Find those that share your greatest passion . . . early friends. Hoops, music, whatever. No, malted milk balls are not a passion.

4. Find your “go to” happy place(s). Best place to study. Best place to pig out. Best place to drink (soda). Best place to hang (find a pool table). Best place to expend energy and stress. And for goodness sake, put up Christmas lights . . . blinking are the best ones.

3. Do things you stink at. For real . . . not the “I’m not very good at this . . . I only came in third in the state.” I mean, things you are really bad at . . . like dancing. Got it? Try everything you stink at! Now is the time.

2. Make it not about you. This is such a fun time for you to do so many things. Make sure that you open your eyes and ears enough to see who you can help. “I need help finishing this keg” does not qualify. Take time, make time, to help someone else. It will come back to you.

1. It is an adventure, not the execution of your life plan. Work hard, use all the talents God gave you to their max, and post successes. But it is equally important that you look for forks in the road so you can take the crazy, nonsensical, and yes, less-travelled path. Pray about it and you will choose wisely. If you are incredibly excited about what you do, you will find joy, regardless of the outcome.

Oh yeah, don’t torture your mom like that, CALL HER!


Shawn O’Grady studied chemical engineering at Notre Dame. A native of Columbus, Ohio, he worked as an engineer and then went on to Harvard Business School. For the past 26 years, he has been in marketing and sales at General Mills, where he is a Senior Vice President. He lives in Minnesota with his wife and two kids, runs marathons and is passionate about ending hunger in America.