“Keep your head down, work hard.” Those words have been cycling in my head for the better part of my schooling years, ingrained into my psyche. They come from a place of fear, from what I was taught by parents who have only wanted the best for me but who, as immigrants, have had to move through the world cautiously, often accepting half of the recognition and a fraction of the love that they deserve from the world in return. When you are someone who has to write yourself into the narrative, you do what you can to remain in the narrative; you are simply grateful for being there. You do not ask for more.

But over the years, I have learned that I can ask for what I need. Particularly students of color, children of immigrants, or low-income students may have internalized the idea that making it to Yale itself is defeating the odds, and deferring to others in their choices is the price they have to pay. While much of my time in college was spent with this mindset, I want to tell you how important it is to carve spaces and to speak up for yourself. It is not indulgent or ungrateful to ask for what you need. This is your education, and you are at the cusp of something new; you can make it as vivid and beautiful an experience as you want it to be.

I’ve spent more time than I want to admit over the past four years hesitating about decisions that, now, in the midst of a pandemic, I wish I hadn’t agonized over. As cliché as it sounds, something I have learned through the experience of losing my senior spring due to the coronavirus pandemic is that time ceaselessly pulses forward; it does not wait for the indecisive, for the hesitant.

I am trying to make this piece as raw and honest as it can be. These sentences are not the most artfully constructed, but as far as I can tell, they are real, and they are true. I want to tell you something real and true, something I would’ve needed to hear before I stepped on campus. Incoming first years, as you’ve probably been told by now a thousand times over, you are entering into an uncertain world. As of yet, no one quite knows whether college will be online or in-person in the fall, or what a “new normal” social-distancing college campus is going to look like. But amid all this uncertainty, even if the world around you is crumbling, you have the opportunity to develop an inner compass, to find an internal rhythm that guides you.

I remember myself my first year, legs shaking, hands clasped together over my notebook, in which I had scrawled haphazard thoughts before a confrontation with a peer. As a deeply shy middle and high school student, the idea of a confrontation was extremely daunting. But something inside had pushed me to reach out to this peer, to bring up concerns that I was holding inside. I remember after our talk crying on the bench and regretting bringing up my thoughts at all. I remember feeling stupid for writing down anything in my notebook. I remember the confrontation ending badly. For a long time after that, I wished I had continued to bite my tongue in the way I had in the years past. Now, I want to tell that first-year self that even though the confrontation ended badly, it was important, crucial even, that I brought up what I was feeling, even if it wasn’t the outcome I wanted. This is a roundabout way of saying that whatever you feel is important to say — to a peer, to a friend, to a teacher, to a significant other — say it, as respectfully as you can. It is far too painful to hold things inside, or to assume that someone else will read your mind.

I came to this campus knowing that I wanted to major in English and be part of the writing concentration. As someone who didn’t know anyone before coming to Yale who was a writer or an academic, the things I hope to one day become, I panicked and applied to the Global Affairs major (I didn’t get in). I took microeconomics. I didn’t want to do these things, but I felt afraid and hesitant and unsure. That feeling of uncertainty, I now realize, will persist throughout most of the decisions I make in my life, but there is too little time to not do the things that make me — or you — feel most alive.

I want to speak in particular to students who might feel afraid to make decisions or ask for what they need. I am running out of words, so I am going to tell you what I want to say in a deeply incoherent way that more resembles a list than a piece of nuanced writing. But here goes: 

You deserve to ask for more from the people around you when you need to. When someone is mistreating you, when someone does not respect your boundaries, speak up. Go to office hours. Cultivate mentorship on campus with professors or chaplains or heads of college who see you and who assure you that your upbringing or your socioeconomic status are not factors that determine who you can become. Hold onto mentors and friends who see your potential and value in your darkest and brightest moments alike. Apply to opportunities that you hunger for, and try not to worry about whether or not you will get them. Believe that the things that are meant for you will come to you. Go on a first date. Tell the person you love that you love them even if they don’t love you back. Hang out with someone new. Write something bad and publish it and be criticized for it and start again. If you have the sudden impulse to dance, join a dance group even if you’re the worst dancer there. Remember that there are people who want to help you, who can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Find someone who believes in you. It can be anyone. It can be yourself. Someday you may wake up to find that you have less time than you thought you did. So, figure out what you want to say, and say it.

MEGHANA MYSORE is a graduated senior in Davenport College, class of 2020 and former staff columnist. Contact her at meghana.mysore@yale.edu .