Dear Malia Obama,
Hey. What’s up?! I heard you got into college. Awesome! We don’t know each other but I hope it’s okay to write you this letter.
I’m an actress on “The Big Bang Theory” – maybe you watch it, maybe you don’t; all good either way– and I was on a TV show called “Blossom” from age 14 to 19. So, basically, I know what it’s like to live in the public eye and although being an actress is very different from being part of the First Family, I think I have a little bit of an idea of what you might encounter in college.
I was originally planning on sending you my top four tips for going to college but the first was going to be “take a gap year,” and you’ve already covered that! (I’ve spoken about the importance of gap years, such as my friend’s Los Angeles-based Jewish social justice gap year program, Tzedek America, here.) Gap year programs are a wonderful way to focus your mental energy and truly prepare for making the most of your college experience. I actually got into the same school that you are going to go to, but I was still working on “Blossom” at the time I graduated from high school and had to defer for two years. After that time, I ended up staying close to home and going to UCLA, but I remember feeling really grateful that I had some extra time to mature, see the world around me, and really think about how I want to spend my time when I entered college at 19.
That being said, here are my top three tips for entering college.
- Try to blend in. When I started college, I was highly recognizable from pretty much everyone’s television set. A lot of people stared at me and asked for autographs. (There were no cell phones or smart phones when I started college so people taking selfies was not an issue!) I learned very quickly that while some people were really nice to me and sometimes overly nice to me, there was a certain portion of people who decided that they weren’t going to be nice to me, in part because everyone else was being nice to me. The way that I learned to handle both kinds of people-the ones being nice and the ones not being nice-was to do all of the normal things that people do in college. Meaning, I didn’t try to set myself apart in any particular way and I didn’t make a fuss about myself; I just tried to go to my classes and eat my lunch and join study groups and attend events that I found interesting. I assume that you will have a certain amount of security with you or around you but I don’t see that as a deterrent to you blending in in pretty much every other way.
- Speak your truth. A lot of people said a lot of incredibly stupid and mean and insulting things to me because I was famous when I started college. People accused me of getting good grades because teachers and teaching assistants recognized me, I was accused of trying to get special treatment simply by doing all of the things that students have access to, such as attending professors’ office hours and going for extra student counseling to help plan my schedules etc. I even had very high-ranking senior professors insinuate that I had only gotten to where I was because I was famous. These things hurt, and I didn’t always have the words or the confidence to stand up for myself. I hope that you have the words and the confidence to speak your truth and tell people that they can go take a hike or whatever it is that young people say when they want someone to leave them the heck alone. I also would imagine that a lot of people who may not agree with your father’s politics might harass you and I hope you have a lot of strength and a good sense of humor to ignore those people or find some sassy way to make them feel stupid for bothering you about your dad’s politics.
- Be yourself. This is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten for all stages of my life, but I encourage you to find your own path and have an amazing time when your gap year is over and you are ready to go to college. For me, college was the first place where I found a bunch of people with my similar interests rather than just the one or two people I had things in common with in junior high and high school. And if being yourself means studying a lot rather than going to a ton of drunken fraternity parties, then you are my people and I am giving you a virtual fist bump right now.
I don’t know you, but I am certain you are a brilliant young woman and I wish you the best at Harvard and beyond. And if you want to visit Los Angeles during your gap year, I’m sure my friends at Tzedek America’s gap year program would love to have you come and visit! I’ll drive you myself and we can turn that virtual fist bump into a reality.
[Image via Emmy4Mayim]