Guest blog by Hannah McConnaughey, Foster Class of 2019
When I was in high school, everyone told me that college was a fresh start. A clean slate. A blank canvas. A new beginning. Every euphemism you can think of for four vacant, expansive — dare I say boundless? — years that stretched before me back in 2015. Countless movies, TV shows, books, and college brochures had told me the exact same thing.
So, I set foot on campus four years ago with slightly shorter hair and a lot fewer Foster t-shirts, ready to “find myself” and embark into the unknown. I was surrounded by thousands of strangers, using Google Maps to find my way around campus, and as I slid into the third row of my 700-person ECON 200 class, that “fresh start” felt a lot more like starting from zero, like someone had hit a reset button.
It was a strange cocktail of emotions — simultaneously sure that my new personality was right around the corner while also semi-sure that my old one had left the building. People had warned me about “imposter syndrome,” but it wasn’t quite the same. Imposter syndrome says, “You don’t deserve to be here.” My crazed inner monologue said, “You got here…now what?”
I had gone from the top of the food chain as a senior in high school, to square one as a freshman in college. I’d wanted to pursue marketing since seventh grade, but the sea of blazers in Paccar made me wonder if I was cut out for business. Despite a lifelong love of writing, I sat in the back row of my required freshman English class, petrified that I was in for a rude awakening as soon as I turned in my first paper.
But somehow, the world kept turning. I signed up for the UW American Marketing Association and a few meetings reassured me that marketing was exactly what I wanted to do. I 4.0’ed that freshman English class. I landed my first internship that winter, became a Mary Gates Leadership Scholar, started the UW Student Life blog, took on the Editor role at Her Campus UW, started grading for Foster faculty, and added two minors.
It felt like a revelation when it occurred to me that College Hannah was just High School Hannah three months later, thirty miles farther south, a little more sleep-deprived. It feels like a revelation that Adult Hannah will be College Hannah the day after graduation.
These four years don’t happen in a vacuum.
Of course, it was easy to feel overwhelmed or lost as the new kid on campus — but you haven’t lost everything that got you there in the first place (even if it took me a while to realize that). And there’s not a doubt in my mind that it’ll be all too easy to feel like a Freshman of Life just a few days or weeks from now. It’s all too easy for even the most confident, high-achieving student to step outside of Paccar Hall and feel suddenly adrift. I would know.
But while we might be leaving Foster, Foster will never leave us. Though hunting down your first job, moving to a new city, or leaving campus is daunting to say the least, every accomplishment travels with you. Every late night in the Foster team rooms, case competition, group project, and club exec team meeting has taught you something.
If this sounds like a pep talk, that’s because it is — the same one I gave myself every time I felt self-doubt in an English class or panicked during an internship. It’s the same one I’ll be giving myself on my first day of work at Microsoft, for the first week, first month — however long it takes for me to get my own message.
It’s okay if you don’t know what’s next, once we throw our caps in the air and sweep up the confetti and take our last final. I don’t really know what comes next either. We’ve spent all our time in college building toward the grand finale: Graduation Day. But here’s the thing: the next day, you keep on building. That foundation is still there. It was hard-earned, hard-won, and sometimes just plain hard, but you made it here. Everything you’ve done has led you to this moment and prepared you for this moment. You are as ready as you can be.