Open Letter to Incoming City Year Corps Members
Recently, I was asked to write a letter for corps members that would be serving with the national service organization City Year in the coming year. I served in 2011-2012 and, having had a year away, had plenty of time to reflect and so, after reading over this letter, knowing that over 2000 corps members will be joining the CY ranks this coming year, I thought I’d share this out to more than just the CY New Hampshire folks.
My name is Sam and I served in a fourth grade class in 2011-2012 and I wanted to welcome you! So. Yeah. Welcome! That stiltedness, that awkwardness—that was intentional (I swear). There is a reason for it and that reason is you are about to embark on one of the most awkward years of your life (like, way more awkward than those teenage years, the ones where you’ve hidden the pictures in a locked box, under all the stuffed animals in the back of your closet behind a secret panel). This awkward, though, will be the best awkward of your life. Embrace it. Seriously. Give the awkward a hug whenever you see it.
You’re going to feel uncomfortable on an almost-daily basis. You won’t know what to do a lot of the time or how to react. That is okay. I repeat, that is okay. Embrace it. Understand that you’re not going to have all of the answers (even if you think you do, you don’t…I learned this). You know who will have all the answers, though? Everyone else. Your teammates and teachers and fellow corps members and CY staff, they will know. Ask them. Open your mouth and don’t close it. Say “I don’t know” and “I can’t do this” and “Please, please let this day be over.” Say it all. Put your head on your desk in a moment of silence and question why you are putting yourself through this stress. Get on the treadmill/elliptical/stationary bike and sweat it out. Feel the burn and keep questioning. It’ll be worth it. Oh, it’ll be worth it.
I’ll even take a moment here and answer one of those questions you might ask. Q: Why did I sign up for this? A: Because it will single-handedly be the best year of your life. Coming out of high school, you will become to better prepared to handle college than the rest of your classmates. Coming out of college, you’ll either get knocked down a peg or two to the appropriate level or, you will see the leader/teacher/creator in you and you will unlock the fire of idealism and change the damn world.
And that’s what you’re doing, with City year. Changing the world. One student at a time, one math problem at a time, one spelling test at a time, you are changing it. But it isn’t always going to feel that way. You may go days without feeling like you’ve done anything good. It will be a slog through the depths of hell or ignorance or whatever grandiose term you want to insert. It will. And it is going to suck (pretty bad). Don’t panic. Don’t worry.Okay, maybe worry a little, but not too much because, again, you have 60 other people waiting to be by your side with advice or a hug or a drink or a run or whatever.
Don’t be scared, though. As I said, this will be the best kind of awkward. While you are embracing it, there are probably a few other things you could do, too, to make this year one of the best. 1) Don’t say no to new experiences. Never danced in front of people? Try it sometime. Always wanted to see Vermont? See Vermont. 2) Be open and honest. You see the same people every day. You see them in work, then you see them on the weekends. They are your rocky backbone anchors of support in a turbulent ten months of service. Trust in them and give them no reason to not trust in you. Open your mouth if you have an issue—it’ll help things down the road to head issues off at the pass. 3) Laugh. Laugh every day. Tell jokes or stories or watch a funny show. Just, however you do it, laugh. Finally, and most importantly, 4) Have fun. Make this the best year of your life and enjoy it. Make friends you’ll have to you die and experiences that even a laser couldn’t erase from your brain.
You are doing an amazing thing, this year. Never forget that. Never forget that this is one of the bravest things someone could do, this changing the world. You are in the thoughts of everyone who has come before you. We’re in your corner. You’ve got this. Good luck.