TEXT: A letter to my first-year self, 1) photo of Jessica in front of Kings College circle, 2) photo of Jessica with her friends in front of Robarts

Five Lessons for My First-Year Self

As a soon-to-be U of T graduate in June, here are five pieces of advice for my first-year self.

Dear 2019 Jessica,

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote my last exam of undergrad. These past four years have been fulfilling yet challenging. I am excited, relieved, and so proud of myself to be graduating! Can you believe that?! As a soon-to-be U of T graduate in June, here are five pieces of advice for you, my first-year self.

1. The most valuable skills won’t be learned in a textbook

Sure, it’s great that you can now solve differential equations. But ultimately, what led me to develop the confidence, organization and communication skills I have today are from the work and volunteer experience I gained over the past four years. My on-campus job as a Digital Storyteller led me to be comfortable in front of a camera and effectively get a message across. Being co-president of the Victoria College Athletics Association taught me how to lead an organization and create a welcoming environment. As cliché as it sounds, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

2. Talk to people in your classes

I’ve taken classes where I’ve powered through not talking to anyone and classes where I’ve formed groups of classmates I would talk to regularly. I can tell you that with the latter, I enjoyed going to those classes more and would end up performing better as well. Despite being an introvert, having at least one person in each class to exchange notes, study together, and keep you accountable is so much more worthwhile than navigating a class on your own.

A classroom with black chalkboards and empty seats in front.

3. Explore on- and off- campus

One of the reasons the University of Toronto was my top choice for university was because of its prime location. For on-campus spots, I made it a goal to visit the 44 libraries and I visited just over half of them. It was nice to be able to switch up my scenery every so often! I am also glad to have made the most of being downtown, and exploring the city’s coffee shops, museums, and neighbourhoods — some of my favourites being Café 23, the Gardiner Museum and Kensington Market.

4. Everything will work out – trust the process

There will be times when you get rejected, fail a course (multiple times…), or feel lost and uncertain about the future. The times when I lost out on an opportunity, there was usually a better one waiting for me. Although it sucks in the moment, remember, rejection is redirection.

5. Remember your “why”?

Like many students, I’ve experienced some of my most stressful days during university. During exams and midterm season, it can be difficult to find motivation to study. It helps to put things in perspective and ask yourself, why are you studying this degree? My goal is to become a high school teacher, so thinking of my future self helped me to persevere. And because I remembered my “why”, I’ll be continuing this path completing my Master of Teaching at OISE next year!

Also, treat days can also be your “why”. Sometimes a future career can seem too far away, but an almond croissant at the end of the week? That was another good motivator to look forward to and ultimately got me through those hard times.

Would I do it all again if I could? Probably not. But, did I learn more about myself, my capabilities, society and the world around me? Absolutely. And I'll be forever grateful.

From your older and somewhat wiser self,

Jessica Kok

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