A Letter to My Past Self: Danielle's First Day of Heller Edition

Danielle Lund, MA in Sustainable International Development/MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence'24

April 16, 2024

Danielle Lund Headshot For a girl who has lived in the same home her whole life, you just made a very big move… how are you feeling? Well, I am you, so I know how nervous you are to start this new chapter. You’re going to learn that Waltham, MA is much different to Longwood, FL: I’m glad you bought that new winter coat, because you are going to need it. But, you’ll come to love the winter because of how much the cold makes you appreciate the warmth summertime brings, which is something you have taken for granted as a Floridian.

The thing about this next chapter is that you will become resilient in the face of change. I know change frustrates you because you’d prefer to be in control of your surroundings, but you will learn that it is happening for you, not to you: you’re in a place now that will allow you to evolve into a more educated, empathetic, and adaptable human, and when you embrace this change, you will grow exponentially as a person. Heller will teach you that the world is filled with uncertainty, therefore you must be certain that you are capable of dealing with the unknown (and you are, so please just trust yourself). Not knowing scares you now, but me today believes that it is much more alarming to believe you know everything, just to realize you barely have a clue. Heller will teach you that it is not only okay, but encouraged, to ask questions and admit when there is something you don’t know. The other day, a peer told me that you don’t come to graduate school because you know everything, but because you recognize that you don’t know, yet want to learn. I am not afraid anymore of what I don’t know, and you will soon realize how freeing that is.

You are going to meet the most intelligent and caring professors that you will have the honor of working with. You will also forge friendships that make you laugh so hard you get a little dizzy, but that also encourage you to reach your full potential. Please don’t take for granted the people you are surrounded by, because opportunities to get to know people like this don’t come often. You will also go through difficult times, and you will struggle with some of the course material: this is natural, so please do not let this deter you. As a student in the Conflict Resolution and Coexistence program, the material is heavy, and you will soon find out how large the world really is - and what a small bubble you have lived in: this will only motivate you. Also, you don’t know this yet, but you will take on a second degree in Sustainable International Development, and you will become really interested in learning about African development. You’ll have a lot of great resources at your disposal to expand on this knowledge, so be sure to take advantage of them.

If there’s anything you do here at Heller, please lean into the hard work, and lean into the difficult conversations, because you will be better for it. Conversations here will challenge beliefs you have held your entire life that you once believed were unwavering, and it will be hard to accept this at first. Once you do, you will realize that there is a world of knowledge for you to delve into without preservation. You will spend a lot of time roaming around the library, thumbing through book pages and reading new ideas, and you will even take up reading for fun as a hobby again (a lot of people here at Heller like to read, so I guess you could say it was due to positive influence). You will not only get a research position at the Mandel Center, but also a teaching assistant position for a policy course at Heller. You’re not a policy student, and I know the idea of helping teach undergraduate students about labor policy seems like a daunting task, but it’s rewarding, fun, and you’re doing just fine.

There’s one last thing I want to tell you, past me: please be kind to yourself. This is all new to you, so how can you expect to know what to do when you’ve never done it before? Embrace the unknown! Embrace change! Embrace each other! The rest will follow. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you are on your way to becoming a change-maker, and that is thanks to the Heller School.