Twenty years. It is hard to wrap my mind around that number. Twenty years ago this month, at the ripe old age of 17, I was in the process of sorting through all my earthly possessions, deciding which things would accompany me to my freshman year of college, and which things I would leave behind. I can still remember the nervous anticipation that followed me around that summer, the imminent move never far from my mind. It seems like just yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time.
I still have my college ID. It’s tucked in amongst the gazillion other cards that have accumulated in my wallet over the years. I’m not sure why I continue to hold onto it. Maybe because of nostalgia. Maybe because I have always felt weird about throwing it away. And at this point, if I have had it in my wallet for twenty years, why not keep it in there another twenty?
I came across it the other day, after I let my 3-year-old rearrange all the cards in my wallet in an attempt to keep him entertained. As I peered at the image of my seventeen-year-old self, I couldn’t help but think about how much has happened since the day that I.D. was first handed to me. That young girl smiling back at me had so many hopes. So many dreams. So many fears. So many questions. So many N’Sync cds.
I would love to be able to travel back in a time-machine, Marty McFly style, and have a conversation with her. There is so much I would like to say.
I would tell her it was OK if she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. That life will present paths that have nothing to do with her college degree. That all she will learn outside of the classroom will be just as important as what she will learn inside the classroom.
I would tell her to not get so caught up in what other people think. To not be afraid of being her authentic self. To live more boldly, and share her opinion, even if it isn’t the most popular one.
I would tell her to enjoy her healthy and able body. To never take it for granted. To move more and explore the world more, because health is never a guarantee.
I would tell her that love will find its way to her, in its own time and place. That loving with her whole heart will not always end in heartbreak. That her future family will look nothing like she imagined, but it will be perfect for her all the same.
I would tell her to call her parents more. And thank them profusely. That one day she will understand all the sacrifices they made in order for her to be walking across that campus day after day. And when she experiences the fierce love a parent has for their child, she will see her own parents in a brand-new light.
I would tell her to truly appreciate the people who will walk beside her on this journey and let them know what they mean to her. The professors that will help strengthen her confidence. The strangers that will grow into treasured friends. Some of these folks will become a part of her history, and some will be ever-present throughout her life. Each relationship will teach her something new.
I would tell her to not take for granted the opportunities that she has been given. I would tell her to get her butt out of bed everyday for that 8:00 a.m. class because there are so many others that would love to be in her place but never get the chance.
I would tell her to not worry so much . . . about where she will be 10 years from now, or 20 years from now. That often, the best moments in life come from spontaneous events that were never part of a grand plan.
Most importantly, I would tell her that I love her. That I am proud of her. That I believe in her. That she will make mistakes, but those mistakes don’t have to define her. That life won’t be easy, but twenty years from now she will look back at her seventeen-year-old self and realize just how far she’s come.
Lastly, I would tell her to hang on to that college ID because it will bring back priceless memories every time she sees it.