Dear 2011 Alanna,
So, this might sound weird but I am 2015 Alanna. And I am coming with some pretty rad news – you have graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with Honours. I wish there was a way that I could send you this letter – I’d save you four years of anxiety and stressing about whether or not you’d actually get to this point. I wish you could read everything that I’m writing to you right now, but if there is a chance that time travel actually becomes a thing, this letter will always be here waiting for you.
I can still see you on the day you moved into residence. You had just gotten bangs the day before and you were still getting used to them, while also trying to ignore the nervous churning in your stomach. You’re so scared that the people on your floor won’t like you and that you’re going to go the next four years without any friends. That fear will go away as soon as you step off the elevator and there is another first year there, introducing yourself to her. And you’re going to realize that everything is okay. Maybe you didn’t know it at the time, but subconsciously you knew that this girl would end up becoming one of your best friends.
Slowly but surely, you’re going to teach yourself to be less shy. And you’re more open to meeting new people because that’s all you’re going to be doing not just in first year, but throughout your whole university career.
I know that in the weeks before coming to WLU, you have a fear that making new friends will replace your old friends from back at home. And in a way, they do. But your old friends still hold a very precious space in your heart. You’re going to spend many months feeling heartbroken that things are different with them, like they replaced you the way you unknowingly did to them. But you’re going to discover that things are supposed to change. It doesn’t mean that you have to cut ties with them. But let them go, venture and discover. Just like you’d want them to allow you to do.
And the friends you do meet – whether it’s that girl who struck up a conversation with you in your “Women Writer: Theory and Practice” course or the boy who lives in your hometown but never knew – will teach you that sometimes you’ll just meet people who just fit in your life. Let them in. Don’t always be so guarded. You never know who you’ll meet and what they’ll add to your life. Sometimes you’ll lose people, but please just remember this: for every person you lose, you will gain two more people who will fight to stay in your life.
You’ve always been family-oriented and I can tell you proudly that you still are. Your sisters are your forever friends and your parents will support you no matter what. Though at times they can be a lot to handle, you can’t forget this: you gave up on yourself long before they’ll ever give up on you. I know you’re telling people that you can’t wait to live in a dorm so that you can have freedom from your family, but the truth is that you miss them. And it’s important to you that you keep a close relationship with them.
You’re going to find yourself harassing your little sister to come and spend the weekend with you at school. You’re going to find yourself excited going on the bus back home. Whenever your phone goes off, your heart will skip when you see that it’s your mom or dad calling. Even though you’re apart from them, this time away from school has made you grow even closer to them. And that strong family bond makes you feel safe when times get rough.
During Orientation Week, you’re going to sign up for the school newspaper, deciding that writing will be a good break from schoolwork. You’re going to be surprised when you discover how much you love being a part of that team solely because of the people you work with. You’re going to love being part of this family so much that you’re wishing you got more involved in high school. You’ll be spending so much time with these people that you feel comfortable telling them about yourself, letting them know your secrets and being vulnerable. These are the people who you will have in your life for as long as you live. For the first time in a long time, you’re going to learn what it means to be a part of something and how much you love it.
I know that as soon as you started university, you’ve been telling family and friends that you’re studying to be a teacher, even though deep in your heart this isn’t what you see yourself doing for the rest of your life. And you’re too proud to tell people that you just don’t know what it is that you want to do for the rest of your life.
Sweet girl, you’re going to realize in January 2013 that you want your extra-curricular passion of journalism to be your career. And by September 2013, your voice doesn’t falter even once when you tell people that you are going to be the next Anna Wintour, running Vogue and becoming a prominent figure in the realm of fashion journalism. Don’t worry little dove – you’ll figure things out. Don’t think that there’s anything wrong with giving yourself some time to just think things through.
Freshmen Alanna, your perfectionism has never been a secret. You know that and I certainly know that, because I’ve seen you battle this for four years. I have seen you crying all those nights when you’d come home from class crying because you “didn’t meet your potential” in a course you won’t even remember when you graduate. I have seen you shed a lot of tears while studying and writing essays, all while telling yourself, “I am not smart enough.”
But you are. You have achieved so much and have done so well. Yes, your transcript will show As. But your transcript will also show you a few Bs – and that is okay. Those grades don’t capture how brilliant and successful you are. You have always had trouble being proud of yourself, so I’ll do it for you.
You don’t know this quite yet, young Freshmen, but you are going to fall madly in love for the first time. And you are going to experience gut-wrenching heartbreak like you never have before.
I won’t lie to you – this love changed you. In some ways, it changed you for the better. You learned what it meant to love someone, to sacrifice, to compromise. It’ll teach you how to care for someone while not forgetting to take care of yourself. And he taught you that you can be loved.
But you will quickly learn that being in love with him brought out the worst in you. You’ve never considered yourself to be a jealous person, but he brought that out in you for his own ego and entertainment. And sometimes, he thrived off that and always made you feel like a consolation prize. For two months, you’re going to feel used and dirty after he breaks you. And you’ll feel a hundred times worse when he comes crawling back and you say you forgive him, even though his words are the white ink tattoos on your body no one can see but you. You keep going back to him, wanting things to be how they were, but it never feels the same because he is not the same. You stop trusting him, and all other men. You become jaded, cynical and so unwilling to deal with the hurt that you hurt and push away everyone who wants to help you heal. And you hate that one person has this much power over you.
I will be honest: today, as you graduate, you are still thinking of him. You’re unsure if you love him or if you love the memory of him. But I can promise me, you have started to believe this more than you did yesterday: you haven’t lost your voice without him near you. You are your own woman. Don’t let this one failed relationship stop you from loving again or have you believing that you’re not deserving of being loved.
2011 Alanna, you’re at a point in your life where your struggles with your body are not yet known to others around you and you can just keep it to yourself. You’re going to be naive enough to believe that it will always be like this. In your third year, you go to some extreme measures to make yourself disappear. You do this to yourself because you feel like (most of the time) you can’t control anything. It doesn’t matter if its school, work or personal, it just always feels like something you can’t get a grasp of. But you control your body. You control it so much that your body bends at a simple demand and breaks every time you do so much as look at it. You’re not going to look or feel like yourself, little dove. Your friends and family will start to get worried and start to ask you uncomfortable questions about it. And I am sorry that you are going to hurt and feel so lonely you don’t know what to do.
But you will heal. Slowly, because that’s the only way. And I am so proud of the courage you muster to face this. You’re going to be afraid to leave this coping mechanism behind, but you’re so strong and beautiful – inside and out – that you would rather bring yourself back for the grand finale than to disappear again.
Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself – what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. Recreate and repeat. Be a living, breathing expression of love. There’s no need to convince anyone of anything. The most powerful way to teach is by example. This will be your manifesto for the rest of your life.
Before I conclude this (rather long) letter, I want you to know that you are an exceptional woman who has achieved so much in your four years at WLU. I have personally seen you grow into the woman you are today and I am proud of who you’ve become. You’ve had many highs and lows in these short four years, and you always diverted all of your energy towards persevering through it all. I am the woman I am today because you fought to become her. Thank you for being the strong and smart woman you are – I am thankful for you, always, but especially today. I will always have you in my thoughts, especially this afternoon when I accept my diploma and become part of the WLU alumni family.
When I walk across that podium, I will be thinking of you and how far you’ve come. I love you, little dove.