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The writing on the wall: A letter to a freshman

| Friday, August 18, 2023

Welcome to the pages of The Observer, and welcome to the tri-campus. We’re so glad you’re here.

When I think about move-in, I imagine freshmen unpacking their things. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but many of those posters, twinkling lights and cheekily worded flags are about to fall off the sticky South Bend summer walls, over and over again.

During my first week on campus, I made one of my best friends by asking her about the Pinterest collage on the wall. One of the photos was a woman with dark hair in a long white dress, running through a flower petal lane. Another featured a yellow “cool bus” with a sneaky missing “s.”

My own first-year decor was nothing to write home about. But one meditative day during my sophomore year, I spent a few hours collecting free posters and slips of paper, anything that I’d call art: a well-designed coaster, a ticket stub, a poem inside a campus publication, a photo of the Michigan lilacs, a forgotten sticky note.

It’s a habit I picked up from a summer roommate on Mackinac Island. But it’s not new. I’ve always liked to treasure things.

When I look at my cancerous collage now, my eyes brim with a glinting kaleidoscope of memory. I’ve diagnosed myself: I’m a walking symbolism machine.

I see my good friend, newspaper mentor and former Dallas summer roommate. She’s in the soda can sticker that says “It’s called pop.”

I see another friend and Observer editor, now abroad. He’s the gradient oval that screams “HISTORY IS FREAKING COOL. -LIZZO.”

I see one of the very first friends I met at Notre Dame in the rainbow watercolor paper she once gave me. Another hides in the Florida postcard.

I see my mom. She’s the photo cut from the prayer book she gave me before my own college move-in.

I see a little girl who held onto her 2017 Notre Dame football ticket, hoping she could one day attend. (That was back when this University still had paper tickets.)

Cut with yearning hands, I see every newspaper masthead I ever wanted to write for.

A little antique “Letter Carrier” badge graces the behemoth’s top left corner. That’s the one that always falls down. I pick it up, again and again. It torments me, reminding me of what I love to do. And I just keep writing letters to the world. “The world never wrote me,” as Emily Dickinson would say. I think that’s my next addition, a page from her poetry book.

A smattering of pressed flowers makes me smile too, although they remind me that some beautiful things don’t last forever. The faded memory contains a wonder all its own.

Right now, I see all of you too — students on the tri-campus and especially the Class of 2027.

You’re hidden away on a cardboard rectangle with black-ink type set, a quote from Jack London that reads: “I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.”

I’m no philosophy major, and I couldn’t tell you the precise difference between living and existing. Still, I see each one of the first-year students in these words. It’s the best advice I can offer.

These will be some of the shortest and fullest four years of your life. There’s going to be a lot of things to tape to your wall.

Will you be ashes or dust? 

Whatever you’re passionate about, don’t shy away from the fire.

Want to know the real writing on the wall? The truth that takes more courage to read?

During your time here, you will be scared. You will be lonely. You will be angry. You might learn — if you haven’t already — that caring deeply means you get hurt. Never apologize for those things that set your heart alight. They are your greatest strength. 

Enroll in the club. Send the letter. Call your grandpa. Talk to your dorm custodian. Start the petition. Sign up for the retreat. Belly laugh. Go to office hours with the professor you admire. Be the friend that suggests dining hall soft serve, with sprinkles. Take the challenging class. Learn how to box. Slay the Jabberwocky. Join the newspaper!

I can’t promise you it will be easy. It’s worth it. Even as a senior, I admit I’m still figuring it out. Even working a job I’ve always wanted, I’m still just learning how to swim.

But that’s addressed by another sticky note on the wall, the one that says:

Flowers duck-taped to my wall like me and you. Yeah, life is far from perfect, but I think it’s better to display the gray strip holding it all together. Flowers are pretty, but let’s not pretend we can beat gravity.

Unironically, the sticky note also includes a crossed-out line, a failed attempt at writing it. I promise that no one has it all together. I certainly don’t.

We’re learning. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? Growing pains are worth it. A little longing is good for body and soul.

Welcome to the tri-campus. If you’re worried about making friends, just ask your section mates about their wall decor. It worked for me.

And if you want your own Observer byline to hang on the wall, check out the South Dining Hall basement. Send me a carrier pigeon (or an email) anytime. I’ll write you back.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Maggie Eastland

Maggie Eastland currently serves as Editor-in-Chief. When she's not working in The Observer office or writing business news, you can find her reading a book, going for a run or drinking her sixth cup of SDH coffee.

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