A Letter to My Freshman Self

A Letter to My Freshman Self

On the eve of graduation, five CSU students reflect on their transformational time on campus, the wisdom they’ve gained and the insight they’ll take with them.

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They say hindsight is 20/20. Wouldn’t it be great to travel back in time and give yourself advice, armed with the wisdom experience affords? While that option isn’t feasible, reflection can still serve as a valuable exercise. For instance, take a moment to remember what it was like on your first day of college. It was probably a little overwhelming to step into a new environment surrounded by unfamiliar faces while battling doubts brought on by imposter syndrome. Imagine if you only knew the confidence and growth that awaited you at the conclusion of your college education. As these CSU Trustee Scholars ​prepare to don a cap and gown, we asked them to pen a message in a bottle to their former selves.

Patricio Ruano

​Patricio Ruano

CSU Channel Islands ’21
Biology, Global Studies

Dear Patrick (people call us Patricio now),

How’s it going? How are you feeling going into your first year of college and the rest of your life? Scared? I heard that’s a good thing! It shows you care. The next few years will be life changing—you’ll transform from a person who hadn’t walked the middle school stage and barely got through high school into the queer man who just got into medical school with a scholarship. You need to believe; it’s the first step in changing yourself.

Nobody told me this, but this process just cannot be done on your own, and that’s for a reason. No matter how much you try to memorize an organic chemistry mechanism or try to juggle 20 roles at once, you need your community of people to catch you when you fall. Build your village of support—peers, supervisors and those who also look up to you as you give back to them. In doing this, you won’t just begin to believe, but realize you belong at Channel Islands.

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I wish we would have doubted ourselves less. I wish we would have had more pride in our presence as a first-generation college student. That is part of becoming a success: proving to ourselves our own capabilities. You will study abroad, engage in cancer research, help develop volunteer programs and mentor so many others. Your seat at college was given to you for a reason; do not doubt yourself in what you can do. You’re right where you need to be to become a change in the world for the better. Enjoy your time in college, and I can’t wait to see our parents​, tias’, tios’ and tita’s faces when you’re wearing that graduation gown!


Breanna Holbert

Breanna Holbert

Chico State ’21
Agricultural Science, Education

Dear Bre,

At the end of my time here at Chico State, I finally found you—the “you” you and I have dreamt of becoming all of our lives: a confident leader; a gifted storyteller; and a charismatic, aware and intelligent future educator. But more importantly, I have found the “you” who is at peace with oneself so much that all she wants to do is be happy, in turn being better for the people she cares so deeply about. Even though not perfect, and I haven’t arrived yet, I am growing closer every day to the person you, myself and your family can be proud of.

I often see you as a draft horse, strangely. You know the ones that have the blinders up. The ones that can only see what’s in front of them, the blinders shielding you from unsuspected distractions. Even though it has gotten you so far, Bre, I encourage you to remove them. Staying focused toward our goals of graduating and being successful is important. However, I can only imagine how much value an opportunity to get to know someone I never thought I’d befriend, offer someone the time of day, take on a new adventure outside of my comfort zone could have added to my life ahead. You will experience so much. Don’t you worry. But, try this. Take off the blinders that only keep your sight on what’s ahead and encourage yourself to take a moment to look around at the beauty that is your educational journey.

Bre, you and I still have so much more to learn about life. Today, I hope these words meet you and encourage you to live for all that is around you. A true blessing to be where you are in your life. Don’t waste it.

With all my love,

Jayden Maree

Jayden Maree

Cal State Long Beach ’21
Aerospace Engineering

Dear Jayden,

This is your first day in a new country, and the journey will surely be wild. Let me tell you now, it will not be smooth sailing, but at least you took a risk. As John A. Shedd said: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” There is no way I could prepare you for the absolute storm that is to come, but the most important thing I can tell you is to take care of your health. At the end of the day, all you truly have is your health. Being young may be a license to make mistakes and to grow, but there are pains no person should experience and a wisdom you would rather not have gained.

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I know there is a lot of pressure to perform, but you will regret working your health away. So, take care of yourself because the quality of your life depends on it. In your case, grades do not always reflect learning. There will be things much more important than grades; you just have to find them. You sit on the shoulders of those who built society and have your own influence to bring. Don’t doubt that change is possible, because somebody will always take note of who you are and what you bring to the table. Be yourself and live with the urgency to be. Life as you know it may change at any moment (and trust me, it will), so just be, while you can be, in the world freely. Peace out, brother bear.

Yours truly,

Anthony Lawson

Anthony Lawson

CSUN ’21

Dear Anthony,

The road ahead of you is filled with many different opportunities. Each one can lead you on a path to success. I know you’re scared, but I can’t imagine another person more prepared for any situation. Losing your brother has caused you to doubt yourself and all facets of life, but you have to use his death to empower the person you know you can be. Despite the immense pain you and your family are suffering, you control your destiny. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, meet new people, try new things and adapt to any situation.

Your brother has left you some big shoes to fill, and now it is up to you to represent his life through you each day. Talking about the death of a loved one is never an easy task, but I implore you to spread his story amongst your community every day. People need to be aware of the life and legacy of David Josiah Lawson. Be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. There are so many people out there waiting for someone to take charge and become a community leader. This task may sound hard, but nothing of value comes easy. It is the burden of this responsibility that will define you and who you choose to be.

Be the best version of yourself in anything you do; you don’t have to live anyone else’s story. You may not realize it now, but the hard work you put in each day will be noticed. You have a bright future ahead of you, and others are counting on your voice. Go out and be the person I know you can be. Your legacy is one that will inspire many.


An Thien Le

An Thien Le

Cal State Fullerton ’21
Business Administration, Accounting

Dear An,

I recently thought about you and how nervous you would be to start your four-year journey, namely your bachelor’s degree. I believe you would have so many questions that no one could answer you thoroughly. Thus, I decided to write you this letter to share the true story that you may not find anywhere else.

I am here to tell you that your four years will be gone in the blink of an eye, so please enjoy every moment of this journey. You will feel disappointed when you receive a bad grade from an exam you worked so hard for. Additionally, you will feel hopeless when you get rejections from several job interviews you believed you nailed. However, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Remember, you will have your faculty members, family and friends who are there by your side to encourage and support you whenever you fail. Moreover, believe in yourself and put a hundred percent effort into every goal you set. Take advantage of everything your school offers and participate in the school community, which can help you develop yourself both personally and professionally. Finally, never forget to sleep and take care of your health.

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Even though this is also the time to look back on all the circumstances that have happened to me since I was a freshman, it is not the time for me to feel regret. As a human being, I could make mistakes and miss some great opportunities in my life. Yet, I believe that as long as I do not give up and move forward, new success and opportunities will be waiting for me in the future. Therefore, do not worry too much if you cannot stick to the plan you have formulated; there will always be​​ a plan B to get to where you want if you are willing to overcome all the challenges on the road to success.

Sincerely yours,

Meet more CSU Trustees’ Award winners who demonstrate superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need.