For When the Big Envelopes Arrive

Hello, frequent readers. Thanks for coming back. It’s always a pleasure. My column will be a little different today, not really as a way of shaking things up—even though I am hip and with it—but mostly, this is for the younger members of the Boston College community.

Dear prospective members of the Class of 2021,

Congratulations on your acceptance to this fine university over the past few weeks. I’m sure you all have questions. I have answers. Well, some. I am relatable because I too have gone through this process before—twice in fact. What classes should you take? What should your major be? Should you even come here? Well, I don’t have all of those answers. But I can help.

When I was 9 years old, spurred by the magnificent storytelling of Cinderella Story starring Hilary Duff, I decided that Princeton University was the place for me. I was going to be a writer—the next J.K. Rowling, to show my age even more than I already have—and Princeton even had a Quidditch team. The one unfortunate thing was that the Tigers’ colors were orange and black, and I had some serious reconciling to do with the fact that it was not the Gryffindor red and gold. Though eventually that did not factor into my college decision, it seems like even then I should have known.

By the time I reached high school, I was a little bit of a mess. Geometry honors had shaken me to my core. My English teacher hated my portfolio of interpretations on the Tao Te Ching. I was, all things considered, not the type of student that Princeton would allow within its hallowed halls. So I did what every other teenager would do in that situation: I gave up. I now approached college with the anxiety and confusion of a lost puppy. Did I want to go to the South, where I had visions of a sea of perfectly worn-down brown cowboy boots against lacey white dresses and floppy hats, far away from the noise of a big city? Or was I better suited going even farther, across the Atlantic Ocean to Trinity College Dublin, to experience the country that my family came from? And what was I even going to major in? I had heard the cautionary tales against majoring in English—zero career prospects and only the achievement of having read a lot of books. I had no idea what I was doing. But there was one person who wanted to help.

My brother has had type 1 diabetes since he was 2 years old, and the disease brought with it another task for babysitters to deal with. Most couldn’t take the heat—the way it was going, it seemed like my siblings and I were the modern-day von Trapps, sabotaging anyone that came through the door. Caitlin, who had diabetes herself, stuck with us. Not only did she provide the service my parents needed, but she was cool, even for tweens and teens that didn’t want their peers to know that a babysitter still came to their house every night. She quickly became more of a sister to myself and my two sisters. When the topic of my future years came up, Caitlin had nothing but optimism: she would Google prestigious universities and awards that I could apply for, a presidential scholarship Bill Clinton received at the University of Virginia. My feelings of academic failure did not make sense to her. You would’ve thought that I was a genius.

We didn’t just talk about college, though. Over my first high school Spring Break, she took me to Bloomingdale’s to find my very own pair of 7 For All Mankind jeans, a brand prized by elite high schoolers and celebrities, as memory serves. She picked out a pair, light washed with the right amount of flare for 2011, and dragged me into a dressing room. An old woman stuck pins around the waist and ankles, and the perfect pair of jeans to fit my 5-foot-1 frame had appeared out of thin air. At the end of the day, the jeans remained on the rack at Bloomingdale’s—I protested against her paying for such an expensive piece of clothing.

Caitlin treated me like a sister, too. She gave me her hand-me-downs, despite towering over me. I received her last package the year after the 7 jeans excursion—several T-shirts, a sweater, sweatpants from grad school at Vanderbilt University, her latest adventure, and a well-worn Kelly green shirt that said “Irish by chance, Eagle by choice” with Baldwin’s face in the middle. A pink Post-It declaring that it was for when I arrived at BC was lost in the trash soon after, but I remember it even now.

Caitlin died a couple weeks later, sending my 15-year-old self into freefall. I tried to keep up the optimism that she held for me—that I could get in somewhere great, that I would just know where I belonged. I spent my freshman year at Notre Dame, where I just didn’t fit. The night I arrived at BC for move-in my sophomore year, I unpacked my pajama shirts first, squeezing them into the bottom drawer. In the mix was the green shirt: Irish by chance, Eagle by choice. I wore it to bed.

Dear Class of 2021,
Congratulations on your admission to Boston College. We are so happy to have you here. I’m sure you have a lot of questions. Should you come here? I don’t know. But you always end up exactly where  you’re supposed to.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor

Shannon Kelly

Shannon Kelly is the assistant features editor. One day she'd like to get paid to be funny instead of being funny for free for this newspaper or on Twitter @ShannonJoyKelly. (The irony of her middle name is not lost on her.)

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