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.
Congratulations! You did it! While Frosh-O was a literal nightmare for your introverted self, this is still the place you’ve been dreaming about for a while.
However, you will soon realize you are not in L.A. anymore.
Your peers will begin to ask if you think you are here as the result of some affirmative action policy.
An instructor will be so surprised to find out that your last name originates in Mexico and he will poll the class to see “who can tell.”
A peer will publicly say undocumented people deserve to die if they arrive in an emergency room.
But I want you to know that you deserve to be here. You are no less worthy than they are. You are not operating at a deficit. Your voice matters and you should use it — use it to challenge others, to tell your story. These experiences will build resiliency and clarity of purpose. They will help you to embrace your identities in ways you haven’t discovered yet.
People will think you are not Brown enough but also not White enough. Regardless, you will find a group of people who love you because of your identities, not in spite of them. They will help you embrace who you are and stand by you as you learn more about your history through Latino studies. Better yet, in the time you spend in McKenna, you will finally find professors who look like you and reflect a different experience.
- 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
As time passes, daily microaggressions will build up. Lean on your friends. They are having similar experiences and you do not have to face it alone. Find other students of color in your classes to exchange knowing glances with when something ludicrous happens. The silent camaraderie will get you through it. These experiences will make you a better professional in the future as you work with students and try to relate to their lives.
It will be hard when those around you are taking weekend trips and going to exotic places for break, while you are just trying to make enough money to put food on the table. You will work countless campus jobs, and this is where you will meet some really great people. But also know Rector Funds can help with that class ring you’ll eye in your junior year. I wish I could tell you it won’t always be this way, but Notre Dame is expensive, and the decision to come here will impact you far after graduation. You are lucky enough to have a family who will do what they can to support you as you establish yourself. And, hopefully, one day, you will be able to pay them back. I have faith that will happen.
Hate has its limitations. You will feel it but do not succumb to it. People are the sum of their experiences and yours just looks different from others. Focus on education, on being the outlier to their stereotypes and opening their minds in the process.
Hope is a better use of your energy. The presidential election of 2008 will bring hope for the country. In your personal life, find hope in the small things. As you walk down South Quad, look up to that shining Dome and remember the huge role Mary played in the faith of Abuelito and dad. Remember the tears in dad’s eyes when he saw Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Basilica because he knew she would take care of you — and she will — just remember to visit her occasionally.
There will be days when this seems like too much to handle — like this is not the place for you. But this will also be the place that makes you who you are. You will find your best friends here. You will find your passions here. You will find that dreams you have been chasing are not necessarily right for you. You will question everything. And in four years, you will look back and be so proud at everything you accomplished — so beyond prepared for everything the world might throw at you. And you will come to realize, you were meant to be here all along.
All my love,
Your future self
Ashleigh Renteria studied psychology and Latino studies at Notre Dame. She currently works in student affairs in higher education in Los Angeles, advocating for more inclusive campus environments.