An Open Letter to First-years: Advice from a Senior

Rose Chiappone ’16J advises first-year students to take time for themselves and ask for help when they need it. Photo by Marissa Manabat '18 Rose Chiappone '16J Contributing Writer 1. Ask for help. Whether it’s asking a stranger for directions to Burton, asking your neighbor to help you move your junk up three flights of stairs or asking your Head Resident for a hug on a night when you just need one, asking for help is an important and necessary skill. I have often felt like if I ask for help, I’m weak and helpless. But guess what. Asking for help is a sign of strength. Everyone has their limits, and there is no shame in admitting them. This brings me to point two…

2. You will fail and/or have a break down — it’s normal! People are here for you. We didn’t choose Smith College for its academic ease or its mediocre reputation. You will be pushed here mentally and emotionally to achieve more than you originally thought possible for yourself, and this means failure. If you managed to catch anything over the screaming at this year’s Convocation, remember the words of Professor Michael Thurston: “I hope you fail on the way to success.”

3. Speaking of great professors — they love you more than you know. Read up all you want on RateMyProfessor.com, but no website can accurately portray the love and passion present in the teaching faculty. You’re in college now, which means you’re allowed to be friends with your professors, have coffee with them, ask for life advice or just hang out in their office because you think they’re cool. Do you really think anyone could do their job unless they absolutely loved it?

4. Say thank you — gratitude will get you much further in life than complaining will. Think of all the people who’ve opened doors for you (literally and figuratively), wiped a table after you’ve eaten there or complimented your sweet vintage outfit. I’ve been lucky enough to thank all kinds of people — from the professors who wrote me letters of recommendation to the women working in Student Financial Services who have pictures of their kids displayed on their desks. Gratitude will make your world warmer.

5. Pack less. Do you really need 15 pairs of shoes, two desk lamps and six boxes of clothes to sleep at night? I’ll never forget schlepping all of these things (and more) from my home two hours away and up three flights of stairs my first day at Smith only to find that my international roommate travelled all the way from China with one box and one suitcase.

6. Make best friends. You will likely meet hundreds of people in your first week; it’s okay to forget peoples’ names, just smile and politely admit it. You don’t have to like everyone you meet, but if you meet someone you like, hold them close.

7. Take responsibility for your habits — the good and the bad. Don’t procrastinate…but if you do, the best thing is to own up to it. As uncomfortable as it may feel, it’s better to tell your professor that your ten-paged essay is going to be late not because your dog died or your brother is in the hospital but because, “I did not make time for it.” This admissionwill give you much more respect, ownership and self-esteem. On one occasion during my time at Smith, I got a phone call in the middle of class saying a family member had passed away. The amount of genuine compassion and condolences I received from my professors was so heart-warming. I would never want to ask for false sympathy for the sake of a grade.

8. Leave Smith! You might be thinking, “But... I just got here?” Exactly. I won’t get into the extraordinary opportunity that is Smith’s study abroad program, but even leaving campus for a long weekend will refresh you enough to keep on keeping on.

9. Call your parents and loved ones. They worry about you, and they’re proud of you.

10. Take care of yourself. This is the most important advice I have both received and ignored on multiple occasions. It’s a lot of work to be alive and a lot of work to be alive and well at Smith College. Everyone has their own version of self-care. Only you know what classes are right for you, what food nourishes you, what amount of exercise reduces stress for you and ultimately what code of conduct is right for you. If I can impart any wisdom from my years, it is this. Good luck, first-years!