Happy Monday, everyone! Today’s blog is a little different than normal. It’s more personal and reflective. It’s meant to be shared. If you know a college freshmen or the parent of one, I’d love for you to pass it on.

Dear College Freshmen,

This morning, Facebook alerted me that 7 years ago today, I became friends (Facebook friends, that is) with my now husband. We met the first day of Welcome Week, right after we had moved into our dorm. While it wasn’t a love at first sight story, I started reminiscing. No, this isn’t a story about us. This is a story about YOU and the things that lie ahead…if you want them to.

Other photos that popped up were of my dorm room decorations and my first roommate, whose wedding I was in last Fall, 6 years later. Sometimes, Facebook memories make me cringe. Other times, they make me uber nostalgic, realizing that some of the easiest and most fun days of my life have come and gone.

While I fully believe there are amazing days ahead, college is such a unique time of growth. It’s also a time of ease. You’ve got hot meals just a short walk away, housing away from your parents for the first time, can wear T-shirts every day of your life, and access to a world of possibilities. I hope you’ll make the most of it.

Go outside of your comfort zone

Don’t write off a person as a potential connection because they’re different than you are. Take that class that sounds interesting even if you’re worried you’ll fail. Share the unique things about you without fear of judgment. Pursue the passions you have without fear of not being accepted. Try a new club or organization. Challenge yourself to do one thing each day that makes you a little uncomfortable…even if that’s trying that new dining hall “special.”

Get yourself out of the imaginary box you’ve created. Just because you think you’ll study one thing doesn’t mean you have to. Just because you’ve always said you want to pursue a certain career doesn’t mean you have to. Get rid of the “should” and “supposed to.” Embrace the unknown. Enjoy the adventure that it takes to get there.

Practice gentleness.

Everyone is dealing with something. Maybe your roommate seems standoffish, but in reality they’re homesick. Maybe your professor seems cruel, but in reality they’re trying to find their way, too. Maybe your parents keep calling you every day, but in reality, they’re missing you. Give a hug to your roommate, a “thank you” to your professor (also, showing up at their office hours when you need help can go far), and for goodness sake, answer your phone when your parents call. You’ll find yourself calling THEM by the time you’re a Junior or Senior, trust me.

Practice gentleness to those around you, but also to yourself. When you’re struggling, seek help. When you’re doing well, celebrate it. When you have a question, ask. When you need to take a day off, do it. When you need a nap, take a nap. Prioritize your mental health. Check in on those around you. Be gentle to yourself and others.

Formulate your own beliefs.

This is your time to question what is right and wrong, to get to know your personal ideals, and to formulate your own beliefs. Take time to get to know yourself and what you believe in. If you’re confident in what you believe, stand firmly behind them. If you’re not, ask the tough questions. Rarely will you ever find yourself in more intimate settings with such diverse groups of people. Take advantage of that. Have those conversations.

Show appreciation.

Say “thank you” to the dining hall servers, the janitors that take the hallway trash out, the professors, the advisors, and anyone else who makes your life easier in any way. Say “thank you” to those who challenge you, who engage in tough discussions, and who keep you grounded. Most importantly, say “thank you” to your parents, your family, and your friends back home. They got you to where you are. Don’t forget about them.

Go to Chick-fil-A.

I don’t actually mean that you have to only go to Chick-fil-A (I mean, I wouldn’t judge you if you do). Go do the things. If a group from your hall is going out for ice cream, go. If a new person you meet asks you to check out the Football game with them, go. If your suitemate asks you to go to Target as they get last minute supplies, go. Say yes to adventures, no matter how big or small.

Let the other worries like money, time, or energy come after. I never once regretted the late nights spent walking around campus with friends, getting Cook Out milkshakes even when I probably should have skipped out, or dressing up for a Halloween party. You can be an adult when you graduate. For now, go enjoy.

As a disclaimer, I do want to say that you should enjoy and adventure safely. You’re 18, you’re away from home, but don’t be stupid.

Look up.

I can’t tell you how many times I walked across campus looking down at my phone the entire time. During my last week as a Senior, I looked around. I started to look up. You know what? I got a little teary eyed. I realized how much I’d miss my walks to classes, the bells ringing at certain times of the day, and the atmosphere. I didn’t look at the people around me often enough. I didn’t get to know enough people.

I didn’t pay attention in some classes because I was too distracted by what was on my computer screen. I was too focused on taking a video of what I was doing than I was on enjoying the moment. I know, I know, I sound preachy. But it’s so true.

Look up. It’ll be over before you know it.

Enjoy the ride. Four years goes by WAY too fast. Soon enough, you’ll be paying off the loans that you spent four years accumulating. Make them worth it.

Caroline Johnson, Christopher Newport University Class of 2016

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