Class of 2016 letters, reflection, advice

Seniors Megan Kimbrell and Catherine Dowgwillo. Photo courtesy of Megan Kimbrell.

Dear UD Freshman,

How you perceive yourself is far more precious than how you are perceived by your peers. Don’t undervalue your inner peace.

Annie Ryland, Elizabeth Kerin and Fifi LiMandri. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kerin.
Annie Ryland, Elizabeth Kerin and Fifi LiMandri. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kerin.

Be quick to forgive yourself and others. Be gracious, genuine and present: fostering these virtues will win and maintain the best of friendships.

Becoming who you are called to be begins today. Set aside the narrative that you’ve written for your future. Your education here at UD will be more joyful and grace-filled than you can imagine right now. Embrace it.


Elizabeth Kerin

Dear Dallas Freshman,

So you decided to go to college. Awesome. I wish I could be there to tell you exactly what the next four years are going to be like. But there really is no way to tell. What I can tell you is this: it will be over before you know it.

That said, it will be some of the most intense years of your life. You are going to learn so much about yourself. It will be hard. Sometimes it might be so hard that you’ll think you won’t make it. But, I promise, you can do it. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are so many people here that care about you. Go to your friends, family, teachers, campus minister, a counselor — anyone you trust. Take your fears and use them as motivation. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone but yourself. You are your own worst critic, but you can also be your own best cheerleader.

You must also realize that friends come and go. You may not hang out with the same people next year as you did this year. And that is okay! Enjoy and cherish the time you had with them, and if you grow apart, get out there and meet new people. Don’t be afraid to make new friends. Sometimes you may realize that friends change and that it is not in the best interest of your wellbeing to try and pursue what was lost. That doesn’t mean you have to ignore them or be mean to them; they are just filling a different role in your life.

Keep your head up and your eyes open. Believe in yourself. Ask for help. And get up every morning and be thankful that you have this opportunity!

You got this!

-Kaitlyn Lissner

Freshman of UD:

Four years ago, I was asked by Daniel Orazio (then the commentary editor of the UD newspaper) to write an article reflecting on my first year at UD. It’s a little odd to be writing for the paper again, this time to reflect on my whole experience at UD. In particular, I remember him telling me that he enjoyed hearing a freshman’s perspective because freshmen were “not yet embittered” by their experience at UD. It didn’t make much sense to me then, but after four years I can see at least a bit of it in the senior class. Other people will probably tell you to take advantage of all the opportunities here (both social and academic), which is very important, but my piece to you is this: don’t become bitter.

Yes, UD has many flaws. But remember that every part of life will have its ups and downs. It’s possible that UD will have more downs for you than other places you have been or will be. Rather than dwell on its flaws, though, make the most out of what is good about UD. Do what you can to improve the flaws you see, and don’t let the other things bother you too much. You will be much happier if you do not allow yourself to become bitter and are thankful for the good things about UD.

And get enough sleep. You will be a million times more productive and happier if you sleep a healthy amount. I promise that all-nighters are not necessary if you plan your schedule well.

Enjoy your remaining time at UD! It will pass by more quickly than you expect. Make the most of this wonderful opportunity God has given you.

Lucie Buisson

Dear Dallas Freshmen, 

So, you think you know what it really means to attend a liberal arts university. After one year? Yeah, I did too. You’re wrong, but at least you’re in good company. There is so much more to be experienced, to be amazed with, to be frustrated with, to be enamored with. Fighting little Italian ladies for communion with your brothers and sisters in Christ;climbing cliffs off the Amalfi Coast; working through term papers together till all hours; sending anonymous mail to friends (which is surprisingly hard at this university); sitting in the quiet of the chapel while music on the Mall rages on outside; working on SPUD, SG or SF with your friends and fellow UDers are honors and privileges second to none.

Megan Kimbrell and Catherine Dowgwillo. Photo courtesy of Megan Kimbrell.
Megan Kimbrell and Catherine Dowgwillo. Photo courtesy of Megan Kimbrell.

The Core is intense and may wreak havoc on your GPA if you don’t take it seriously, but truly, it is the people who make up the core of this university. Whether you go fall or spring, or never go at all, we are all truly one huge geeky family (as much as we try to deny it at times). Each person plays such a uniquely special, irreplaceable part in the dynamic of the UD Bubble that it is hard to imagine what it would be like without them.

Unfortunately, our class, the class of 2016, had to suffer this unimaginable loss with the passing of Zach Clark in 2015. However, it is truly in these times of need that our tight knit community pulls together and rallies like a large college simply cannot. Zach made us pull in our loved ones close at home and on campus, and he even repaired severed bonds between friends, because his passing made us realize that this life is too short to live with regret. He made us realize that everyone and every moment is vital.

Whether you realize it or not, everyone is important and appreciated, not only while you’re here at UD, but long after you’re gone.

Clichély yours,

Megan Kimbrell

A few words of advice from several mistakes:

1. Try not to resent your professors when you get your first (or second or third) Lit Trad paper back with a bad grade. They are tearing your pretentious-high-school-senior walls down to build you into a cohesive, fluid, informed writer.

2. Follow your convictions in studies and dating — you won’t regret getting that English degree, and you certainly won’t regret saying “no” to a barefooted boy.

Hank Walter and Riley Roberts. Photo courtesy of Riley Roberts.
Hank Walter and Riley Roberts. Photo courtesy of Riley Roberts.

3. I know you’re drinking to relax, but if you find yourself too relaxed, you will become a monster who eats too many pretzels and chain smokes. Go easy on the drinks.

4. Don’t fall in love with the first boy who whispers sweet Socratic nothings in your ear; he assuredly won’t be the last.

5. Take pictures. Write anything. Document as much as you can, because each sentence you write and picture you take will be a comfort when you’re a nostalgic senior, and it gives you a chance for reflection.

6. Know that you can survive whatever kind of heartbreak you experience; I do not recommend boys who do not know what they want — don’t find yourself on a first date at Olive Garden.

7. Yes, Rome is actually all it’s cracked up to be. Embrace fulfilling the study abroad stereotypes that you resentfully “like” on Facebook.

-Riley Roberts

Dear UD Freshmen,

Congratulations. You made a great decision by coming to the University of Dallas. You may not know it now, (I sure didn’t) but a few short years from now you might see where I’m coming from.

Forget about high school, whether it was amazing or dreadful, leave behind labels and stereotypes from those days, and dive right in to the community and culture of UD – the sooner the better. I’m not talking about the idealistic, pie-in-the sky philosophy, but the down-to-earth reality of the people and things around you. Get to know the people in your dorm, leave your door open so people can just stop in to say hi — this sense of community is one of the strongest you will ever know. Hang out on the Mall or in the Cap Bar. Participate in intramurals. Go to the cafeteria by yourself and sit with people you don’t know. You may be surprised by who you meet, and it will develop your networking skills. The people, more than anything, make UD a special place.

Try to take as many of your Core classes as possible in your first two years, even if you have already declared a major. This exposure to the wide course offerings of UD will give you a glimpse of everything and leave plenty of time to decide to change or add majors. You don’t want to be the senior that says “Philosophy of Being was incredible, I should have taken more classes with Dr. Engelland.”

Take advantage of the Catholic diversity on campus here at UD. By this I mean try going to First Friday Mass at Cistercian Abbey, 8 a.m. Mass at the Dominican Priory during the week and 9:15 a.m. Mass at Holy Trinity Seminary on Sundays (and bring friends with you). Don’t wait until after Rome, as many do, to find your faith and realize the joy and beauty of the Catholic community UD fosters.

Matthew Cyr

Dear Freshman Self,

These four years will push you out of your comfort zone and make you question who you are and what you want. You’ll pray that by the end of your time at the University of Dallas, you’ll have it all figured out. But — sorry to break it to you — you won’t. You won’t know it all or have everything figured out, but you will have some amazing friends, unforgettable memories, and knowledge and experiences to hold onto for the rest of your life. Who knows? By the time it’s all said and done, you just might be one step closer to finding yourself.

But, until then, there are more than a few things I’d like you to keep in mind.

1. Quit trying to be what you think others want you to be, and just be the person you know you can be. Stop measuring your own value by what others think of you, and don’t attach your self-worth to anything or anyone. You’re not just the girl with the long hair, the girl who lifts or the girl with the big water jug. You’re the girl with a brain, the girl with heart and the girl who never gives up.

2. Don’t be too hard on yourself. When it comes to volleyball, staying in shape, getting good grades, guys, friends or anything else, cut yourself some slack. Nobody else expects you to be perfect, so don’t try to be. It’s great to want to be great, but perfection doesn’t exist. The only requirement is that you do your absolute best, and that will always be enough. People admire your resilience (or so I’ve been told), so just keep trying to be the best you can be — even if it takes you more than a few tries. Which leads me to my third point.

Marissa Villarrubia, Hailey White, Sandra Boettcher and Jamie Birzer. Photo courtesy of Jaime Birzer.
Marissa Villarrubia, Hailey White, Sandra Boettcher and Jamie Birzer. Photo courtesy of Jaime Birzer.

3. It’s okay to make mistakes — even big ones (because you will make some big ones). It’s okay to fail sometimes, because failing doesn’t mean you’re weak, just that you have more to learn. A failure is an opportunity to pick yourself up, improve and do better next time (or the time after that). After all, it’s fun to learn and improve — and you never shy away from a challenge. Like I said before, you cannot be perfect, and you sure can’t do everything on your own. Mistakes happen. Accept this, and don’t be afraid or too stubborn to ask for help.

4. Things rarely happen according to plan. You can prep and plan your life away, but God always has something else up his sleeve (that little sneak). At times, this will be a pleasant surprise, but other times, it will devastate you. For example — SPOILER ALERT — you tear your ACL toward the end of your senior season. It’s tough, it’s unfair and it absolutely sucks. You feel sorry for yourself (after all, you were having the best season of your career), and you cry a lot (I can’t help it, I’m an emotional human being). But once you finally come to terms with the fact that it’s all out of your control, something amazing happens … You learn to deal with adversity and to overcome mental obstacles. You grow in ways you didn’t even know you needed to, and you become stronger for it.

5. Life sucks sometimes. Especially come sophomore year, when Dad is diagnosed, and then junior year, when he passes away. You’ll be scared and cry, and you’ll definitely wonder why. You’ll question God and your own faith and even the power of prayer. We never know why things happen the way they do, no matter how much time passes. We still miss him like crazy and wish we could go back in time, but give it more time and you’ll realize just how important it is to cherish the blessings in your life right now. So be present and appreciate everything. Always be thankful for what you have, including your amazing family, your fantastic friends and the strong, supportive community that stands behind you. First you’ll wonder, “Why me?” but then, “Why not me?” His plan has a purpose, even if you don’t understand what it is. I know this is so much easier said than done, and, really, it’s not even that easily said. Still, the fact is: Life is going to be difficult, and sometimes incredibly painful, but it’s much better if you lean on those who love you and just let go and let God. You are so #blessed — never forget it!

And so, my young, wide-eyed self, I leave you with this: College is tough, and life is tougher, but you’re going to make it through. Just please do me a few favors: Pray more, keep smiling, take chances and be who you are, unapologetically. Make the most of every second and every minute, every heartache and every laugh, every late night of studying and every early morning of conditioning, every failure and every triumph. In four short years, you’ll look back and be happy that you did, because it goes by way faster than you think. But I promise you, you’re going to have the time of your life. NOW GO HAVE FUN!


Jamie Birzer

Dear Dallas Freshman,

My advice to you: Go find the experiences that are waiting for you. Not the experiences that are waiting for your roommate or your significant other or the other people in your major. The experiences that await you are the things that interest you. It is in these places that you will find your passion. It is in these places that you will find yourself. Love dancing? Go to swing club, go to TGIT, go out dancing. Not sure if you like dancing, but want to find out? Go to swing club, go to TGIT, go out dancing. Chase your own interests. Don’t let others tell you what you should be interested in or what you should do. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but only if you’re interested in them. We’re all nerds here; just embrace it.


Kelsey Watson

Dear UD Freshman,

Try to go to every TGIT and power through the awkward conversations, sober or tipsy, to establish diverse friendships. Also, if there is a theme, dress up. The best memories are rummaging through people’s closets trying to time travel back to the ’80s.

Don’t let small roommate annoyances define your friendships. Choose roommates wisely based on living compatibility, and not necessarily friendships, to avoid hurt feelings.

Embrace the city you live in, and don’t get stuck on campus. FMO is real, but if you leave campus for two hours, odds are, everything will be the exact same when you return.

Branch out among friend groups even if it’s uncomfortable at first.

Record your memories before you begin to forget, whether it’s through pictures or a journal. You will laugh about those memories years later with your now-best friends.

Christina Deal and Annie Ryland. Photo courtesy of Christina Deal.
Christina Deal and Annie Ryland. Photo courtesy of Christina Deal.

Celebrate everyone’s birthday at school with as much fanfare as possible. Whether or not you like to admit it, it’s hard to be away from home and the people who love you.

Figure out how to optimize your study time as quickly as possible. Talk to your professors. They are people, too, and not as intimidating as they sometimes seem in class.

Get to know at least a few upperclassmen whether or not you have a sibling at UD. Though there are only four years between freshmen and seniors, they are much wiser for having lived on their own, gone to Rome and completed 75 percent of their higher education.

Be proactive about getting a summer job before Rome. Start applying in April to anything and everything to make money.

In Rome, make sure to maintain friendships. Even though the campus is small, the semester is extremely high pressure. Don’t let this stress interfere with getting to know your classmates on a deeper level than just acquaintance.

Participate in any and every last official or unofficial tradition the University of Dallas students keep alive. They come once a year, and before your know it, it’s two weeks to graduation and you’ve never experienced Oktoberfest or Spring Formal.

-Christina Deal

Dear UD Freshmen,

In the midst of the crazy last two weeks of my UD career, I take a moment to reflect. As you will find at this point in your lives, time is short. As such, pay close attention to the following:

– Play volleyball! Actually go outside and play volleyball at the Madonna courts with students you don’t know, even if you haven’t played before. You meet people and build camaraderie. Make sure to include guys and girls.

– Do the readings. The amount of work may stink at the time, but trust me, four years later when you are taking Lit Trad IV, it really helps to have a well-learned Core behind you.

– Go to Mass at the Seminary. There are other places than the campus church and Cistercian to go to Mass. The seminarians are a great bunch and getting to know some of them is well worth it. Donuts are a plus.

– Find all the free food: Open A, when the Cap Bar closes, clean up after events, club meetings, etc. Free food is a great way to add variety to your life and to meet new friends. You don’t have to live solely on ramen.

– Office hours. Go to office hours at least once with every professor you take a class from. You will gain so much from this. It creates a student-professor relationship that immensely improves your class and UD experience.

– Take food to class. No, not just food for yourself, that’s incredibly rude. Make something (cookies, chili, mac & cheese …) to share with the entire class. If a professor complains, quote Dante to him.

– Be yourself.

I wish you all the best on your very quick four years at UD!


Joseph Malone
Computer Science and Classics, ’16

Dear Dallas Freshmen,

There are a lot of boxes we can step into while we’re trying to find our way here. Step out of as many as you can! When we allow ourselves to be just an introvert, or think of someone else as just a drinker, it can be comfortable to find that as closure. But life is not about comfort! We come to UD to be challenged, broken down and rebuilt. This is boot camp for the life of the soul. This is the greatest place to step outside your boxes and your comfort zone without losing your tethers to family, faith, tradition, virtue, love and whatever else grounds you. You can keep those things and develop them.

Photo by Elizabeth Kerin.
Photo by Elizabeth Kerin.

How can we both stay true to ourselves and grow as people? I was greatly inspired by Nietzsche’s answer: constant self-overcoming. This can be very practical. Examine your values: How great is your love? Do you have patience? Have you ever watched a basketball game? Do you get caught up in the common narrative that decries cafeteria fare? Have you ever been to the woods? Do you actually have something to learn from your weird roomie? These questions will keep you on the edge and let you overcome yourself in a variety of ways. Push yourself to do what is hardest (overcome) but only in those things that you are guided toward (stay true). Id est, vandalism can help you grow in self-confidence, but so can acts of charity.

If you know what I’m talking about, I have nothing to offer you. But UD did to me what Bane did to Batman. If you too are a reclusive Bruce Wayne, then take the jump out of your box. Rise!


Joe Dougherty

Dear Dallas Freshmen,

Start your freshman year without preconceived notions of yourselves or others.

Don’t let yourselves be fooled into thinking that you are better or worse than anyone else in your class. You are all freshmen who think you know more about the world than you do. Let the four years at “the university for independent thinkers” transform you into someone who thinks deeply about each question you face.

You will find that your friends at other universities will work hard and come home with a knowledge of their own, but nothing can compare to the gift of deep analysis you find yourself gaining somewhere between visiting Delphi during the Rome semester and your final senior-level class.

Let this gift permeate you. Let it not only affect your dealing with academic questions, but also your moral dilemmas, political questions and issues you may have with your peers.

Allow yourself to meet and befriend peers while at UD that you wouldn’t have talked to in high school. Perhaps the best aspect of life at UD is the community, so do not miss out on the opportunity to make friends.

Jake Loel


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