The letter Haddad left in his freshman dorm room.
J.J. López Haddad ’22

This is a headshot photo of J.J. López Haddad ’22
Courtesy of J.J. López Haddad ’22
“Right now, I’m at the end of my freshman year. Reunions are in their last night, and after a beautiful night of a cappella I thought it would be good to write to you.”

The opening words to the letter I wrote to myself when I was a freshman struck me deeply due to their evocative language. Three years ago, during Reunions and at the end of a difficult first year, I had the impulse to write a letter to my senior self. 

I picked out the best stationery I had, wrote it down, and sealed it in an envelope. “Do NOT open until May 2022,” the envelope read. I found the perfect hiding spot, beneath the wooden bench under my window in room 15 of Buyers Hall. The cavity under the bolted piece of Gothic furniture was replete with cobwebs, so I figured it would remain undisturbed.

This month, May 2022, I returned to Buyers 15 to retrieve it.

I knocked on the door and was greeted by two freshmen busily packing to leave for the summer — I had caught them at the right time. Upon explaining to them that this was my freshman room and that I was a senior seeking to retrieve something from it, they kindly let me in. I quickly stuck my hand under the bench and felt the taped envelope against my fingers. I ripped it away and once one of the occupants saw it, he immediately understood: “You wrote a letter to your senior self!”

Once I was back in my current room and opened the letter, I could not help but weep. The hand that had written it was mine, but its voice was so different. A tired, yet hopeful and optimistic younger me spoke through the words on the page. He first congratulated me for my graduation, and after expressing his wish for me to have accomplished a series of goals and naming many dear friends, he signed off.

I will not disclose the precise contents for the letter. Even though I would not mind, I do not think my younger self would approve. However, I can say that I was surprised that, after a freshman year full of difficulties — moving from a different country, experiencing a strange and foreign academic culture, and feeling lost — my younger self still spoke with hope and enthusiasm about his new home, Princeton. Most predictions he made were spot on. He wished I was still friends with the people listed in the letter. When I realized that I still was, more tears began to flow.

The student who wrote that letter was, I believe, a completely different person from who I am now. The Princeton experience is often described as transformative, and though cliché, this remark could not be truer in my case. I did not think I would fall in love with medieval history and later pursue a Ph.D. on it. I scarcely knew how much the friendships I had made that year would grow and become a fundamental aspect of my live. Moreover, this was the first place in which I truly felt at home, in which I found my true self and made most of the relationships that will define my life. 

“I hope you still find your dorm as cozy as it was,” the letter finished.

Even after a difficult first year and a devastating pandemic, I still made a home at Princeton. I did, indeed, find my room cozy — even cozier than it was — but now it is time to say goodbye, for now.

J.J. López Haddad ’22, a history concentrator from Caracas, Venezuela, graduated with the Class of 2022 on May 24.