Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute(please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
For most people, August 22, 2018 wasn’t a day of great import. In fact, by most measures it was unremarkable. Even the temperature in my town (Hollis, NH) was perfectly average at 81 degrees. But it will go down as one of the most memorable days in my life. My daughter and baby, Madeleine, left for college. It’s a day we dream of as parents — to see our children go off to start the next exciting phase of their life’s journey. But it’s also the day we dread from the first moments we laid eyes on them as babies. It’s the day we let go of our official parenting duty and set our children free, crossing our fingers that the lessons we taught them along the way will serve them well and keep them safe. It’s also the day we come home to an empty house for the first time and begin the next phase of our own life’s journey as empty nesters. It was one of the most beautiful, ugly (my crying!), exhilarating, terrifying, loud, and painfully quiet “average” days I’ve ever experienced. The change was nearly paralyzing for me, which — as a corporate executive who has managed countless changes throughout her career — says a lot. Whenever I experience change, I always have an obsessive need to look back, remember my past experiences (good or bad), and set myself free to move forward. So, I spent the night of Saturday, August 25 looking through old photos from my college days and imagining what was ahead for my Madeleine.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. You see, Madeleine and I are very different people — complete opposites in many ways. Every time I tried to imagine Madeleine in “my shoes” at college, I quickly realized that it wouldn’t be or feel the same for her. Also, as evidenced by my “mall chick” college photo, much has changed since 1983… and that’s a good thing!
Me modeling a new outfit in college to my roommates! So, I did the next best thing, which was to write a letter to my younger college freshman self. I titled the letter “Set Yourself Free,” as I believe you must free yourself of past experiences and be open to what is ahead to accept change and fulfill your purpose. The letter was liberating for me in many ways — allowing me to let go of both Madeleine’s and my own past experiences to fully embrace this new phase of our journeys. I encourage you to set yourself free and reflect on your past experiences so you can open your heart, mind, and self to what is new in your future. Take with you the good and useful memories of your past, and leave behind anything that weighs you down so you can be fully free and open to change. Dear Lisa, When mom left you at Boston College yesterday with a simple “I love you,” please know that this was her way of setting you free. While she will always be your mom and will have an abundance of unconditional love (and some spending money) waiting for you on the other end of the phone line, it is now your turn to take over. Her official job is over; everything mom needed to do to influence the experiences, people, places, and knowledge that made you who you are today is done. Don’t get me wrong; mom still has a lot she wants to tell, teach, and experience with you. But today you start the first day of your unsupervised adulthood. Your choices will be entirely your own. While I have a sneaking suspicion, you are going to do just fine in life, I’d like to let you in on a few little secrets I picked up over the course of the last 35 years, in case this hindsight helps:
  • Don’t be afraidWelcome the adventure and embrace new experiences. It is the only way to stretch and grow. 
  • Make your new space or room your homeAnd know that you are exactly where you belong.
  • Embrace all things that bring you joy and reject negativity. Happiness is a choice.
  • Be your biggest champion and advocate. You earned the right to be where you are today. Also, ask for help if you need it.
  • Celebrate your failures as much as your successes. Failure means you had the courage to try. In both cases, you stretch and grow.
  • Find your voice and use it for good. Don’t be afraid to make your mark.
  • Make best friends for life, not for the moment. Open yourself up to the people who will sustain you in times of need and celebrate with you in times of joy. 
Most of all, Lisa, remember you are a smart and resourceful woman, who loves deeply, laughs loudly, and who gets it done. Love yourself for who you are every day — in body and mind — and when you lose yourself in other’s expectations, forgive yourself and find your path back to you. Love, Lisa in 35 years P.S. Advise all college freshman or anyone experiencing change should read. Set Yourself Free, A letter to my rising Boston College freshman self.

More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis


  • Lisa Aguilo McCann

    Mother, Daughter, Wife, Change Agent, Passionate About Growth Through Change, Building High Performing Teams, and Rising Talent

    I am a proud mother of two college students, a daughter, a wife for 24 years, a sister and a software, services, and operations executive. My purpose is to grow everything around me and leave it stronger, healthier, happier and more beautiful in dynamic change environments. I am passionate about growing high performing teams either in a direct management or matrix structure, leading them through change while ensuring excellence in execution and healthy and happy individuals. I love to solve challenges in dynamic environments and lead the team’s engagement in complex situations to deliver positive outcomes. As the Chief Innovation and Operating Officer for SAP NA Services, I ensure the flawless execution of our business plan and key success measures driving revenue, profit and productivity gains and achieving financial and operational targets in complex software and service environments. I am also responsible for defining and executing change programs, in support of new business models, structural organizational change, operational simplification, and strategic initiatives adopted at NA and Global level. Outside of work, I am an avid gardener.