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My sweet niece,

Everyone will tell you this is the best time of your life, leaving home to start college.

With gratitude to a young niece. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

It is.

You are about to explore territory that will take you far from family and all the things that are secure and comfortable.

This is the best part of becoming independent. It’s uncharted territory; seize it with courage and curiousity. Be brave. Hold sisu in your heart.

I hope you’ll be excited by what you discover. I hope every day at your new school is filled with discovery.

You will learn from others; you will learn from books and other media. Mostly, you will learn about yourself.

Be careful. Don’t be careful.

Just because a professor says it’s true, doesn’t mean it is. Search everywhere for knowledge. Search within.

Learn the difference between Internet sources and old-fashioned sources, between text examples and real-life examples. Seek sources that contradict everything you think you know and all that you’re being taught. Question everything.

Balance what you’re taught with what you know already; heed the wisdom of grown-ups — at school and beyond — but build on that natural wisdom that already makes you such a grounded young woman.

Listen.

The instructor you like the least today just might be the one who teaches you the most. Your favorite prof could be the one whose wisdom stays with you all your life.

Other students will teach you too, in ways you might not realize yet.

Debate.

Show respect for others’ opinions, for their backgrounds, for their ideas. Question everything, but listen for truth.

Explore.

Learn outside your field, no matter how much time your studies consume. Travel as much as you can, to learn about other cultures. Learn about the world; for your generation, it’s a much smaller place.

Campus might seem large now. It will shrink. The more you travel, the smaller it will seem.

You’ve chosen an exciting profession. Public relations is much maligned, but it’s part of everyday life. It can be glamorous; it can be tedious; it can make a real difference in a community. Or not.

Work in your profession as soon as you can, in an internship or as a volunteer. Hands-on will serve you better than any classroom training. You need the degree to get hired after graduation; it won’t matter much after that.

Be a sponge: Soak up all you can in the classroom, in dorm life, in your new community.

Beware of too much partying; beware of too much studying.

Be safe. Try to stay healthy and balance all the temptations of new independence with your own innate wisdom about what is good for you.

Be as good to your body as you are to your mind.

Be good to others. Mostly, be good to yourself.

Call home; call your grandparents; call your sister; call me, whenever you need. Facebook isn’t enough. We all love you. We cherish you. We want you to succeed and be safe. We want you to be happy.

Thank you for being such a bold, sweet woman. Thank you for giving us all such hope.

This is the best time of your life. You cannot imagine yet how you many times you will say that, at different stages, as you grow. Build a strong foundation now, and it will hold you, no matter what, for all the best times to come.

And remember, sweet niece, I am so very proud of you. You are the last of our family to start college. You have cousins and aunts at school; one of your cousins on the other side of the country is about to start grad school. You’re taking on challenges that none of us has tried.

I have always been proud of you, and my heart bursts with joy today, thinking of you, far away, getting ready for this big step. I have always been grateful for your love.

I hope you have fun at college. I hope you don’t have too much fun.

Sisu, sweet niece, sisu: It’s what brought your great-grandmother to Canada, at a younger age than you are now. It’s what helped her build a life of love and goodness without college. Sisu pushed your aunts to grad school and post-grad studies; it’s the foundation on which all of your family stands, college or not.

Sisu will carry you. I am sure of that.

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