Academic Read #1: Letter to My First-Year Self

From our Mission Statement: “Gonzaga University intentionally develops the whole person — intellectually, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.”

Dear Will-I-Am (See What I did there?!),

When I was first asked to address this letter to you, my freshman self, I must admit that I was surprised at my own knee-jerk reaction as a current Senior.  I’m not sure I would want my former self to know any of this information in advance, I thought.  Because I know my former self.  And the great expectations I would chain myself to, if granted such foreknowledge.  The truth that I would not only find, but embrace my most authentic self here at Gonzaga.  That I would meet the love of my life.  That my younger brother would join me as a Zag.  And the greatest truth of all… that the best is ALWAYS yet to come.

For to expect such things, would be to deny their wonder.  And what growth, what faith is there, when you know exactly what is coming next?

No.  I have steadfastly come to believe that what it means, what it feels like to be a Zag, to be a man or woman for and with others, and to be a beloved child of God is not something that can be learned by simply reading.  Such are the kind of revelations that must be experienced.

I remember how paralyzing frightened you were getting out of that car for Orientation, Will.  And how you consciously denied it and instead buried such anxieties through that combination of forced extroversion and obsessive academic productivity.  But as you will come to learn, as you will soon beautifully experience, no one can wear their masks of feigned security forever.  And freedom only comes only once your walls come crashing down.  You tried so very hard to fit into that mold of conceived perfection, but it is in our vulnerability that belonging, and community are born.

Your time at Gonzaga will not be without times of rejection, failure, solitude, or loss.  But even more so, it will contain friendship of greater depth than you could ask for, mysteries that only faith can answer, opportunities that will change your life, and that one, life-changing thing that remains through every trial and tribulation.  Love.  For you, Will, are more completely and unconditionally loved than I know your eighteen-year-old self will ever dare to imagine.  Your family would, and will, put their own lives on pause to be present when you need them most.  Your friends would, and will, talk the whole night through to make certain you believe it.  This community would, and will, remind you of it time and again.  God, would, and did, love you enough to sacrifice His only Son.  And so it follows, Will, that you too must be enough.  And not because of your high school GPA, nor your extra-curricular involvements, or recommendations, but because of the love you dare to pour into this world with self-abandon.

This, Will, is what Gonzaga University will teach you.  That the precious gift of each novel daybreak is a chance to better our world, through the betterment of yourself.  That we find ourselves, in giving ourselves away to others.  And that the only people who truly change the world, as those with enough love and courage to believe that they can do so.  You will be inspired.  And you can light the world on fire.

Gonzaga will merely provide you the match.  It is up to you to ignite yOUR spirit.


Yours truly and in Him,


Gonzaga University


Will Wilde graduated from Gonzaga this past week with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in German. He is from Butte, Montana and his favorite place on campus is the community of Gonzaga’s student chapel in third floor College Hall.

IGNITE Question: How will you allow Gonzaga  to teach you? Challenge you? Shape you? When you graduate from GU, what do you hope your letter would say?

4 Responses to “Academic Read #1: Letter to My First-Year Self”

  • Academic Read #

    I love that Will pointed out that “Your time at Gonzaga will not be without times of rejection, failure, solitude, or loss.” Every new experience comes with ups and downs, but it is the bad days that make the good ones all the more sweet! I have been known to look back on hardships with a smile, knowing that it is hardships that shape us into who we are.

    • Hi Katrina!
      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the icy cold shoulder of rejection! It’s an awful feeling. But, you’re absolutely right, these hardships we face only make stronger as people. As a theater major, rejection happens to be all around me and sometimes present at the most unwelcome of times. One of our late theater professors, Dr. Brain Russo, taught me to “Take the note” and that is the philosophy I’ve held both in my theater and academic life at Gonzaga. “Take the note” sounds generic, but it actually means a lot to me. When people are confronted with rejection they always begin to question why it happened or what is wrong with them and that is so counter-intuitive of our growth as people. However, when I think about, “Take the note,” I think about what I what can I learn from this experience and how I can I utilize these lessons in my future endeavors. If we treat our lives as a series of learning and growth opportunities, it’s quite surprising how rejection suddenly becomes less and less about who you are and more about what you can become.

      Garick Sherburn
      Small Groups and Catering Manager, O-Core 2014

  • I really connected when Will said, “freedom only comes only once your walls come crashing down. You tried so very hard to fit into that mold of conceived perfection, but it is in our vulnerability that belonging, and community are born.” I feel that has been a struggle for me throughout school. I didn’t want to be the lonely one so I changed who I was in order to fit in. I honestly lost who I truly was. Throughout my senior year I am slowly getting myself back to who I am. I spent some lunches alone and I was okay with that. I try to now surround myself with people who love and enjoy me for me. Not someone that I try to be. I feel that it is important for everyone to have a moment of clarity when they realize who they truly are. I know what I stand for as a person of faith, and no person who doesn’t think like me will change that. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I feel the world gets to caught up in trying to be right when they forget to stop and listen to others opinions. The input of other people can ultimately lead to a better solutions!

    • Hi Hannah,

      First of all, welcome to GU and props for being brave enough to eat lunch alone! I’ve had a lot of similar experiences here at Gonzaga. My freshmen year I always went to lunch and dinner with huge groups from my hall and there was a sense of security in being in that large group. After Freshmen year though, my friends spread out across campus and even to off campus housing. As a result, I found myself going to the cafeteria alone a lot more. It was definitely scarey at first, but in the end I became more secure in myself. Those lunches and dinners alone and moments of vulnerability helped give me perspective on my friendships. This has caused me to appreciate the time I spend with my friends. You are definitely right about listening to others. Every interaction and conversation is a moment for growth and learning. Enjoy your time here and never stop growing.

      Kevin McFeely
      Activities Manager

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