A Letter to My Freshman Self: Ten Tips

Author: Chris Stevens '74

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 Chris:

Congratulations again on receiving a scholarship to study and play basketball at the University of Notre Dame. You should be very proud of this accomplishment as you join the ranks of a select few who have been provided such a wonderful opportunity.

As you embark on this journey, please be mindful of the fact that it will be a lot different living on your own with no direct parental or guardian supervision. It will be up to you to ensure that you organize your time so that you can fulfill all of your academic and athletic responsibilities. The University believes enough in you that they are actually paying for your college education. The Bible says somewhere: “To whom much is given . . . much is expected.” You and you alone will regulate your time and energy to ensure that you fulfill well your obligations. Don’t ever forget what a wonderful gift this is that you earned.

That said, someone once said that 90 percent of what you learn in college comes outside the classroom. You will develop relationships and learn to live with, work with, play with, and pray with all kinds of different people. It will be a microcosm of the real world you will live in after you graduate. Enjoy every moment of it and don’t take anything for granted. Set your goals high . . . “If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter much where you end up,” and, “If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to know you arrive when you get there?”

One of America’s greatest presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, was a bold leader who took risks in life to rise to positions of leadership in the military as well as in politics. We can all do well to heed his advice to “Dare Mighty Things.” He said: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much for they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

At the risk of overstepping, I offer these tips for optimizing your Notre Dame educational journey:

1) John Wooden once said: “Be defined by your character . . . your character is who you are . . . your reputation is what other people think of you.” Don’t worry about what others think of you. Just be yourself and commit to being a positive part of your community.

2) Keep your integrity. Watch your tweets and posts. Social media is forever…“Respect is built up through hundreds of positive deeds and destroyed by one stupid one.” Integrity retained is invaluable. Integrity retained is invaluable. Be careful with alcohol.

3) Be nice to everyone . . . reach out to those who might need it most. Maya Angelou once stated: “Few people will remember what you said or did, but everyone will remember how you made them feel. Lou Holtz had three rules for his teams: Be the best that you can be, do the right thing, and show people that you care.

4) Stand for something at Notre Dame . . . get involved . . . leave your mark . . . leave your hall better than it was before you came here. Remember, your life does not get better by chance; it gets better by change. What can you do to make your life better? What can you do to make ND better?

5) Set goals for yourself — personal development goals as well as academic and sports or music or club goals. There are three kinds of people in this world . . . those that make things happen . . . those that watch things happen . . . and those that wonder what happened. Make things happen. “Don’t just do your best. Do what it takes to get the job done.”

6) Get to know your teachers and coaches and allow them to get to know you. Teachers are most interested in students who add value to their class. If you are shy, work on speaking up . . . if you are a show-off, learn to park it when necessary. If you are not a starter, learn to be the best bench player your coach has ever seen . . . it will make your team better, and you will add value.

7) Maintain your balance in life. I have never seen on a tombstone, “I wish I had spent more time at the office” or “I wish I had spent more time studying” or “I wish I had spent more time partying.” Find a balance that works for you — learn to say “No” to temptations you know are not good for you. Get to the Grotto or the Cross in the Woods to quiet the voices . . . recharge and renew when you can — learn to love more — learn to forgive more. John Fetzer said: “Love is the core ingredient that holds us all together” and Desmond Tutu said: “Without forgiveness, there is no future.”

8) Broaden your horizons . . . do a semester abroad . . . do an Appalachia spring break trip . . . go to a play . . . enjoy a Glee Club concert . . . go to the Winter orchestra concert . . . go watch a rugby game, swim meet, women’s softball game . . . go to a Mass you would not ordinarily attend like the Keenan-Stanford Sunday night Mass . . . walk the lakes . . . learn a new instrument or language . . . learn to play golf or tennis, two sports you can play until you die. Get to South Bend. You will be here for four quick years . . . enjoy the ride.

9) Give back . . . be a mentor . . . volunteer . . . find someone’s life you can touch . . . be a Big Brother and be dependable . . . if at some point your life were to flash before your eyes, make sure it will be a life worth watching.

10) Find a way to serve your country . . . maybe ROTC . . . maybe volunteering for veterans . . . organize sending “care packages” to our troops in harm’s way . . . the blanket of freedom we enjoy today has been provided by those who serve . . . remember when it comes to our troops and first responders . . . all gave some . . . some gave all.

Chris, there will be good times and hard times. You will fail often but the measure of a person is not based on how far he falls, but rather how high he bounces back. Dolly Parton once said: “To enjoy the beauty of a rainbow, sometimes you have to put up with a little rain.” You will miss a potentially game-winning shot. You will flunk a test you know you should not have flunked. You will be lied to, you will not play when you think you should, you will get cheated on. Just hang in there. As Admiral Bill McRaven suggests in his 2014 commencement address at Texas, make your bed every morning, do the best you can that day and, if you have had a bad day, at least when you come home you will come home to a well-made bed which will give you hope that tomorrow will be better. Watch his address when you get a chance . . . and watch the commencement address of Ellen DeGeneres who spoke to Tulane University in 2009 not long after Katrina and the stock market crash and recession. I love you and I am proud of you. Remember to give back, for whatever you give in life, you will get back twice in return. God bless you. God bless your classmates and God bless Notre Dame.


Chris Stevens studied economics at Notre Dame and is the founder and CEO of CS 74 Ventures, LLC. As one of the original four team members to develop and launch the Keurig Premium Coffee System in 1998, Chris retired from Keurig, Inc. in May 2013 to teach as an adjunct professor in the Mendoza College of Business.