An Open Letter to the Class of 2019

Dear Class of 2019,

May I be the first of many to extend a warm welcome to you!

Congrats on your accomplishments to date, you’ve crossed the first of many milestones. I know you’re scared, worried, anxious, and excited, but as one who’s stood in your shoes I’m here to tell you this journey will be a joyous one.

I am the proud of alumni of not one but two HBCUs, and although it’s been quite some time, I remember my freshman year as if it was yesterday. My parents were there to get me started–walked with me through orientation, we decorated my room, and stocked my small fridge. They were there to hold my hand and reassure me, and then they were gone. Surprisingly, the tears never came. Our goodbye was bittersweet, that moment forever a memory.

My original roommate plans fell through, but in an amazing twist of fate, I met one of my best friends. Perusing the halls and introducing myself to dorm mates, I happened upon a girl with the same bedspread. She moved in, ITSU Freshman 2005 filed the paperwork and a beautiful friendship was born. We became part of a small unit of girls on campus. People came to know us as a collective, never seeing one without the other, always looking for us to travel in our small pack.

Numerous road trips, all-nighters with no academic purpose, a ridiculous number of meals at Red Lobster, 2-for-1 specials, showing up for every impromptu barbecue on the yard. We were sure to live each day as if were the absolute last.

I enjoyed every bit of my experience. So from one HBCU alumni to a future one, I offer this advice:

  • Party hard, stay up late, but focus on the goal – graduate!
  • Only take an 8AM class if there is no alternative.
  • Create a study schedule and find an accountability partner. Your success is determined by your work.
  • Be prepared to experience your first heart-break.
  • Don’t hide. The version of you that was overshadowed in high school is ready to shine.
  • Make friends. The friends you make in college become the family that walks you through.
  • Have fun! Break a few rules – but only those that will make a great story for your grandkids.
  • Get involved. Join the student government and other campus organizations. Make a name for yourself. Build a positive reputation.
  • Get to know the alumni. They’re a good time at homecoming and a great career building resource.
  • Never let anyone say your HBCU education isn’t equivalent to other educational institutions. You are at the best place you could be.
  • Live your life. Love your life. Fulfill all your college dreams!

This is my advice to you–be prepared to experience that greatest joy of your life and to live the dream many will never see. This is the first of many of the greatest years of your life. No, it won’t be perfect, it won’t always go according to plan, but it will be better than you ever imagined. So grab your books, head over to the student center and meet some new people! I am rooting for you, wishing you the best, and waiting on the day to read the letter you’re writing to someone else.



Rachael RuffinRachael Ruffin, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, is the proud alumni of both Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College. Currently residing in the DC area, she has a built a career in public health with a focus in maternal, child, and infant health. Rachael believes that every journey is unique and is enjoying each pen stroke written on the pages of her story. You can find her on Twitter  and Instagram at @raemichaelle. 



  1. Rachael,
    thanks so much for your blog and words of advice. I am a 1981 grad of Xavier University in New Orleans and a 1986 and 1990 grad of Meharry (MS in Biomedical Sciences and MD). I currently work as an Associate Professor at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, Tuscaloosa campus in the Department of Community and Rural Medicine.

    I love the statements which balance fun and hard work, and indeed the art of balance is a skill that is learned. I also wanted to emphasize expanding on the notion that the goal is to graduate……yes it is, but I also want to students to focus on the process……..the discipline of being on time, of going to classes, of following up on assignments, on researching topic areas, of writing and reading. Learning and growing from meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures through exposure on campus and through travel. Stepping into leadership roles in order to serve your campus and community.

    These are the qualities that build character and make for overall success later in career, your personal life, and community service.