Today is your first official day of college, exactly 10 years after my first day at UNC. I guess I should quit calling you my baby brother since you’re taking your first big step into adulthood. But I still remember when Mom and Dad sat us down to tell us we’d have another sibling. (And I was old enough at 9 to know what that meant…). Even though you stole my throne as the youngest Crawford child, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m even happier that you decided to come live in Atlanta near me!

 

As your older sister, I feel it’s my duty to impart some of the wisdom that I’ve picked up in my extra 10 years here on earth. So, here is my unsolicited life advice for you as you enter college and adulthood:

 

Assume that anything you say or do could end up on the internet.

Believe it or not, the first iPhone came on the market during my freshman year of college. Only an elite few got one, and others had Blackberrys (RIP). Most of us still had flip phones barely capable of taking a decent photo, and connecting it to the internet cost a small fortune. These days, it seems almost everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, and it only takes a few taps of the finger to record, upload, and share just about anything. So keep that in mind, because you definitely don’t want to go viral for saying or doing something stupid.

 

Never, ever drive after drinking. Call an Uber, call a friend, call me.

If you choose to drink alcohol, please, please don’t drive a car. And for that matter, definitely don’t get in a car with a driver who’s been drinking. It’s not worth risking your life, your freedom, or someone else’s life. It is, however, worth having a friend get pissed off at you for taking away their keys.

 

Be mindful about who you surround yourself with.

I know this is a cliche, but it’s true. The more time you spend with other people, the more their behaviors become normalized to you. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad.

 

Chances are, if you hang out with highly motivated, studious people, you’ll get more work done. If your friends like to play video games and blaze all day, you’re likely to be less productive. If you spend time with people who feel strongly about investing in their community and helping others, it’s likely to grow your compassionate heart. If you surround yourself with people who are ok with using racist, homophobic, sexist, or other hurtful language, that’s going to feel more normal than it should.

 

You may be saying to yourself, “just because my friends do it, doesn’t mean I will.”  But why fight an uphill battle? Find friends who are the kind of people you aspire to be, and invest in them.

 

Get to know people’s stories.

We all bring a unique collection of biases, privileges, and experiences to the table. You are a youngest sibling, a lifelong resident to the South, a preacher’s kid, a teacher’s kid, and the product of a family full of college-educated people. Tell your story, and more importantly, listen to others’ stories. I believe that learning those stories is one of the best ways to build bonds and break down barriers.

 

Maybe you’ll bond with a classmate who is of a different race, religion, and country of birth over having both lost your dads at a young age. Maybe you’ll learn about different types of music or food that you’ve never heard about. Maybe people’s stories will humanize some of the things you’ve seen on the news. (I’ve read that stories are more powerful than statistics when it comes to changing people’s minds, but I’m too lazy to find a citation for that right now.) Speaking of changing minds…

 

Give yourself space to change your mind.

It’s important to have goals and to figure out what you believe, but I think it’s even more important to allow room for your goals or views to evolve. I could’ve saved myself a lot of wasted science credits in college if I’d been more open to veering off course of my 11-year path to becoming an orthodontist (lolz because I’d still be in my residency now). I was probably the only biology-turned-art-major in my class, but I’m fortunate that I at least figured it out before I graduated. Point is, if I’d taken the time to regularly reevaluate my goals, I might’ve avoided some headaches. There’s no shame in reorienting toward a new goal.

 

The same goes for your beliefs. Up until now, you’ve probably just identified with what our parents or your teachers or your church have to say about stuff. Now’s your chance to figure out what YOU believe. You are uniquely you, so you don’t have to perfectly subscribe to what another person, political party, denomination, or group says. It’s ok to believe different things than your family, friends, or professors. It’s ok to not fit neatly under a label. Surrounding yourself with different types of people and hearing their stories will help challenge and define your values. Don’t just accept one side of an argument; explore the other side and decide for yourself. Only you get to choose who you are.

 

“No” means no, and only “yes” means yes.

Being married to a lawyer has taught me many things. One of them is that explicit consent is really important. That goes for all aspects of life. For instance, don’t borrow something from your roommate unless he’s given you clear permission. Don’t quit going to a class unless school has officially dropped it from your schedule. Don’t keep bugging a friend who says they don’t want to go out. And as much as I wish I didn’t have to say this, please don’t make any sexual advances on anyone who hasn’t given you explicit consent.

 

Don’t make assumptions, and if you don’t know, ASK.

 

Never let your ego get in the way of asking for help.

Lots of things about college can be difficult–living on your own for the first time; the weeks when tests, papers, and projects are all due at the same time; friend drama; finding time to exercise and keep off that freshman fifteen; grieving the loss of your dad. When it gets overwhelming, ask for help. Go talk to your professor or TA if you don’t understand something. Find a study group or a gym buddy. Call your sister! Talk to a therapist.

 

I had plenty of times in college when I let my ego get in the way of asking for help. I thought I should be able to fight through the grief, anxiety, or struggles on my own. (Spoiler alert: I couldn’t!) When Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I waited until the end of the semester to tell my professors. Their response? “I wish you’d told us sooner.” There’s no shame in needing help because we all do at one time or another.

 

If you made it this far, bravo! You’ve completed your first reading assignment! I hope you know you can always call me for help. And I’ll try my best to just be your sister (and not a second mom). I love you so much, Brother Dearest!

 

Love,

Your Favorite Sister