Just Keep Swimming: An Educator’s Letter to College Freshmen


By Catherine Stine

Catherine Stine teaches 11th grade English, advises student government, and serves as the 11th grade teacher leader at Green Dot Public Schools’ founding school, Ánimo Leadership Charter High School. This is her tenth year teaching, and her fifth year teaching with Green Dot.

To the Green Dot students who are heading to college this fall, you made it! You have accomplished a wonderful feat and will be embarking on one of the greatest adventures of your life. As I write this letter, I remember a question I asked myself during my time in college.It is one that many of my former students pondered, and one you might be asking yourself: “Do I belong here?”

College Freshmen

I’ll never forget the day I ate lunch with my parents after they moved me in. I remember looking around the Stanford campus, listening to nearby conversations, gazing into my mother’s eyes and pleading, “Mom, don’t leave, I don’t know if I fit here.” Walking through the corridors of your college campus, you may observe how it differs from the halls of your high school. Sitting in the dining hall, you may notice how your college differs from the community you call home. This fall, you may question whether you belong here, on your campus, but rest assured you do. You went through the process, and your school chose you, and that was no mistake.

So many who have attended college would admit experiencing this same feeling. At my university, we had an expression for this feeling of displacement: “Stanford ducks.” On the surface everyone looks peaceful and happy, but if you go below the surface you’ll notice they are paddling furiously. And that’s how everyone is, regardless of how confident they may appear. So when you feel like you don’t belong, remember that you do. If there is ever a time you feel like giving up, don’t. Just keep swimming…because in the end, the work will be worth it.

In college you may face struggles, at times you might feel that it’s just too hard, but I promise you, the moment you hand that college diploma to your parents, all of the sweat, the sleepless nights, the tears, everything you sacrificed to pursue a college education will be worth it.

“If there is ever a time you feel like giving up, don’t. Just keep swimming…because in the end, the work will be worth it.”

That college diploma is not only yours, it’s your parents’, it’s your community’s, it’s so much more than you can imagine right now. To all my Green Dot scholars fresh onto a college campus: just keep swimming.

Read Back-to-School Advice From a Green Dot Alum

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