Letter to my Grade 12 self

I wish I'd known this stuff before I started university, but better late than never.

Person writing a letter with a pen and paper beside a laptop Photo: Keira Burton

Dear Alaina,

You must be so excited right now! You're graduating high school, already accepted into university, and picking classes. You’re feeling proud, hopeful, and definitely nervous.

I know you're filled with expectations. Many about what life will be like once you move the final box from your bedroom and say your last goodbye. You’re sure you’ll know exactly what you’ll major in the minute you go to your first class. You know what you like and what you don’t, so what could be so difficult?

You also only plan on living in residence for your first year because how hard could it be to find an apartment with reasonable rent for your second year? Plus, no one lives in residence twice…right? Making friends will be a breeze, studying will be just like high school, and you’ll always feel like you're exactly where you need to be.

So let me fill you in on what goes on once your parents drive away and the world becomes yours.

First, you change your mind…a lot. You flip between one major and another and consider which minor you’d like. You contemplate a double major with a minor or a major with two minors—nothing lasts for long. Luckily all these changes are made on a random scrap piece of paper, but nonetheless, the decision is not as easy as you would've hoped.

In fact, all these changes continue to your second year, where you eventually have to go through Dal Online to change the major you officially declared a few months before. But this is OK! Earning your degree is a difficult process, and the last thing you want is to feel like you’ve locked yourself into something you might regret. Not to mention, once you truly understand the financial side of school, some rational thinking plays a part in choosing your degree.

But once you settle, I promise you that everything feels right. Not only do you make a decision that satisfies your passions, but you also choose one that keeps the door open for so many possible futures. Things take time, and getting comfortable with these uncertainties is a huge accomplishment.

Next, you break your mind free from your high school expectations. You know university will be different, but I know you also feel that the grades you graduated with will be the same grades you’ll get for the next four years.

You’re entering a new environment with a whole new coalition of professors. Some will mark easier than others, and sometimes you’ll get a grade that feels like the end of the world. Don’t worry, it happens! It may sound cliché, but those bad grades make the best checkpoints. You don’t know everything, and not everything will come easy.

Those bad grades show you what you need to work on. Maybe it's the study method or the content, or maybe it's showing you that sometimes you need to ask for help. Learning isn’t always an independent experience, and recognizing this reveals a whole new way to approach your challenges.

Also, remember that finding a class difficult doesn't mean you're unqualified for your degree. Classes aren’t always easy, and you won’t grasp everything. It's all part of the process that will eventually get you where you want to be, no matter how lost you may feel.

Finally, you learn a lot about yourself. You experienced some of the most important years of your life living in quarantine. Many of your likes and dislikes were shaped by the seemingly never-ending introspection that being cooped up in your home provided. But it’s not until you move out that you understand how little you know about yourself.

Classes present you with new interests, new friends reveal more sides of you, true independence revives your inner child, and exposure to a new city reveals things that you yourself cannot withdraw. Some things you like, and others you don’t, but finding out who you are is an amazing thing. So, enjoy it. Embrace it. Savour it. Because this moment in our life will make the best story we could ever write.

You’re going to love and hate the next few years of your life.

But, oh well. Make it yours.