"Just keep swimming" in CMU ocean

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Hello! I am the Carnegie Mellon University Class of 2019+. In high school, I was a pretty big deal.

I had stellar grades, for one, and I aced all of my standardized tests. I was valedictorian and student body president, captain of a varsity sports team and lead in the school musical. I started clubs, service organizations, and even my own company. I wrote for the school newspaper, created my own app, held a variety of internships, wrote research papers, and took service trips to every corner of the globe. On top of all that, I still found time for an active social life. I am intelligent, creative, and hard working — a perfectionist, overachiever, and role model in my community. However, I am beginning to realize that I am not alone.

I look at my fellow students, and I see people who are just like me. They too were leaders in their high schools and standouts in their hometowns. They are incredible and intimidating, and it seems that they share all of the qualities that have set me apart up until this point. My achievements thus far no longer make me special. I am just one more face in the crowd.

It can be difficult coming to a university like Carnegie Mellon. A person can simply look at decades' worth of successful alumni, renowned professors who are leaders in their fields, and current students with incredible achievements to know that this is a hub for innovation and academic success. While this provides amazing opportunities for students and staff, it can also feel overwhelming for someone new to campus. While first-years are used to being leaders — the big fish in their respective small ponds — they are now swimming with thousands of other big fish in what feels like an ocean. They are newcomers once again, adjusting to a culture much more competitive and intense than what they have previously encountered.

In an environment such as this, it can be easy to lie low and fly under the radar. Why should a person try to stand out, be at the top of the class, lead an organization, or create something new when there always seems to be someone around the corner who could do better? What’s the point in trying to be special when you know that everyone around you is already special? Wouldn’t it just be easier to try to simply pass and graduate on time? After all, standing out at Carnegie Mellon takes an incredible amount of hard work, and even then, you might still be counted as just another overachiever. Is that worth the stress and self-doubt?

Sure, aiming for average is an option. It is not, however, the option that any Carnegie Mellon student once took in order to be admitted here. There is so much brilliance, talent, and passion at this university that average is the last thing that comes to mind when thinking about it. Tartans are not built to be average. We are hardwired to push boundaries, make new discoveries, and grow as both scholars and people.

So instead of aiming for average individually, I propose that we aim for greatness together. Yes, your peers may be smarter than you. They may be more talented than you, and they may have better ideas than you. Instead of resigning yourself to stand in their shadows, however, learn from them. Work with them. Even though you may feel inferior to those around you, remember that you are here for a reason — just like them. Allow them to push you to improve whatever it is you came here to do. After all, there is no room to grow in a small pond, but when you have the ocean to explore, the possibilities are endless. We have been granted this incredible opportunity to surround ourselves with extraordinary people. Take advantage of the resources given to you in your fellow students. They are not your adversaries, and their success will not diminish your own. Rather, their success can inspire you, encourage you, and teach you.

Hello! I am the Carnegie Mellon University Class of 2019+. I worked hard to get here, and I know that everyone else at this school worked as much as I did to get here as well. I am not alone. I look at my fellow students and see people who are just like me — passionate, smart, and motivated people whose hearts are in the work and who inspire me each and every day to be my best self. Together, we will push each other toward success.