#GDTBATH: Edward Yang

Doctoral student Edward Yang writes a letter to his younger self on the challenges and celebrations that await as a first-generation college student.

#GDTBATH: Edward Yang

Dear 2008 Eddie,

Tomorrow, you’ll be starting a new chapter in your life: you’re finally going to begin your college career. The last few months, and maybe even years, have probably seemed like an endless process of guessing what college will be like. Whether it’s been your family trying to help you figure out how to get to campus, your high school friends wanting details about experiences you haven’t even had yet, or movies giving you snapshots of things that probably won’t be happening, everyone but you seems to know your future. But no matter what you’ve heard thus far, it’ll be impossible for you to know what your college career — and your graduate school career (sorry, spoiler) — will actually be like. And I’m not writing to you to tell you about the experiences you’re going to have. I wanted to write to you to share a lesson that I hope will help guide your experiences.

There’s so much I can share with you, but perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned so far is this: take the time to genuinely explore your interests and to find your passions. What do you enjoy? What do you care about? What motivates you? What makes you actually want to get up and do something? These are all questions you’ve been asked before, especially throughout the past year as you prepared for college, but how much time have you really, really spent trying to reflect on these questions?

Up until now, most of your life’s major decisions have been guided by the people around you and what you thought they wanted for you. You deferred to their definition and standards of success. As part of an immigrant family, you often felt that you needed to help your family become firmly established in the United States. And within the larger community, pursuing a career that’s the most financially lucrative — a career that would help cement the family legacy — was often seen as the hallmark of success. Passion and joy were rarely, if ever, encouraged to be a part of your decisions. As these different sets of expectations became ingrained within you, one key factor was lost and overlooked: you. However, I’m here to tell you now: your happiness, and your own sense of joy, should be a priority in any major life decision that you make.

You have so much to look forward to. However, these next four years of college, and five-plus years of graduate school, are also going to challenge you in ways you’ve never thought possible. Amidst the readings, the lectures, the exams and papers, you’re going to face moments where you’ll be asking yourself: Why am I even doing all of this? Why am I here? What am I putting myself through all of this torment for? And when you start asking yourself these questions, when you face these moments, I hope you’ll be able to answer. I hope you’ll have found a passion that turns even the most challenging experiences into the most exciting ones.

You’re understandably nervous. You’re wondering if you’ll be OK. And you’re not sure how you’ll even be getting through the next day, let alone the next four-plus years. But if there’s anything I can promise, I can promise that despite these nerves and anxieties, you’re going to have an amazing experience. Your eyes will be opened to interests and talents you never even realized you had. You’re going to begin questioning everything, and you’re going to find some answers along the way. So, I guess this was just a long way of saying: your future can be whatever you want it to be. Get out there. Do everything. And, have fun.

2020 Eddie