An open letter to my niece, upon entering college

[i wrote this a few weeks ago, but was waiting to post it until i had my niece’s permission]

I was in grand rapids today (for a few hours), and thought you were probably already there, beginning your big honkin’ adventure at grand valley. Now I’m sitting in plane somewhere over the middle of the country, and I’m thinking about you. And I’m praying for you. And I’m going to speak bluntly, because I love you and I know you can handle it.

High school had its rough spots, huh? It’s no secret you had your bumps along the way – your great moments, and your bumps. But, possibly more than any time in your life, you’ve got a fresh page. You get to define who you are, what you’ll stand for (and not stand for), who you’ll listen to and who you’ll ignore. You’re still you. And you bring all your history with you (good and bad), as we all do. But this is a new day like you’ve never had: a whole new chapter of blank pages, waiting for you to put ink to paper and write your story.

Since you’re a big time college student now, humor me for a couple minutes and let me play professor for a bit of “Intro to Adolescent Neurobiology, 101”. Here’s the deal: you know and I know that your high school years contained a lot of impulsivity, a good deal of “I don’t even know how to make the right choices”, and a heaping portion of super-charged emotions (geez, you shoulda seen your mom when she was in high school – why do you think my room was in the basement!?). forever, people (even scientists) have thought that kind of stuff in teenagers was just immaturity. But scientists who are studying the adolescent brain are finding out truly amazing things, just in the last few years. The biggest finding is that the teenage brain isn’t finished developing (everyone used to think it was done developing, and just needed to be filled up with more information and experiences). They’ve found that the front part of the brain (called the prefrontal cortex – it’s the part behind your forehead) is massively underdeveloped in teenagers. Here’s the kicker: that’s the part of the brain that processes decision-making. There’s a reason teenagers often suck at making good decisions (I’m not sure what my excuse is, however). They’ve also found that there’s this stuff that grows around the “wiring” (the connectors in the brain) that acts like a protective cover. Once that protective cover is on the “wiring”, things like understanding emotions and implications get hugely faster and more accurate. The protective covering doubles during the second-half of the teenage years.

Why am I telling you all this stuff? Because, just like your life is entering a whole new phase (college! A new roommate! New friends! A whole new level of freedom! A whole new level of responsibility for personal choices and actions!), your brain is now at a point where it’s ready to serve you. Of course, this is all part of how God invented your amazing brain, which is so freakin’ cool.

I see so much good in you. I see so much potential for noticing other peoples’ needs, loving people (like God loves), and living as a peace-bringer. You have a deep river of gentleness in you: you might not always see that. but I can see it. You have a well of compassion. You have a genuine inquisitiveness about people that can be used to bring healing, safety, encouragement, and joy.

I think “hope” is probably my favorite word and concept. It’s such a powerful idea, especially when it’s not defined as ‘wishful thinking’, but has the more biblical sense of confidence in the future. Hope is sustaining, life-giving. Of course, as followers of Jesus, we have both a source of hope, and a person in whom to place our hope. I have a strong sense of hope about you, my sweet niece. And I hope you have hope; I hope you know hope.

I love you. I’m praying for you. Save a lunch date for your old uncle sometime when I’m in GR this fall.

3 thoughts on “An open letter to my niece, upon entering college”

  1. Great stuff Marko. I think I’m going to follow your lead. Reading your open letter, I realized I write quick notes to students all the time, but fail to take the time to write my own niece and nephew heart felt letters.

  2. very cool, Marko. From reading this very thoughtful letter, I can safely say you aren’t the “creepy” uncle to your niece.

    I’ve always thought Parker Palmer’s book “Let Your Life Speak” would be a great gift for highschool graduates/college students.

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