When I was originally asked to write this, I wasn’t sure I’d have any advice to give incoming students. Entering my junior year at Bowdoin, I’m more and more convinced that I won’t know the answer to this place until I’m handed my diploma; only then will everything make sense.

As it stands, I would not change any of the decisions I made over the last two years—that includes the good and the bad. There have been plenty of both to go around. But each decision, each mistake, each experience, has only led me closer to finding my place at Bowdoin and trusting that it is the right school for me.

Coming from a public high school in the conservative South as a Hispanic gay male, Bowdoin seemed like heaven and hell at the same time. I was surrounded by people that, superficially, I had little  in common with.

But that was my first mistake—assuming that someone’s appearance gave me any idea about who they were as people. My first piece of advice? Do not take anyone here at face value. Whether she is an athlete or a “NARP” (Non-Athletic Regular Person), whether he is black or white, Asian or Hispanic, a poet or a musician, you will not know his or her story if you do not ask.

At Bowdoin, it can be easy to assume that no one shares your interests, goals or passions. When your college’s student population seems to overwhelmingly hail from New England, you might be quick to assume—and it would be a hasty conclusion to draw—that there isn’t an opportunity to thrive here if you are different. Know this: Bowdoin constantly catches you off guard and it will do so when you least expect to be surprised by this place.

When I was asked to write this, I asked some of the people I’m closest with—some who fit the superficial Bowdoin mold to the nines, others who couldn’t be farther from that image if they tried—what advice they would give to incoming students.

The answer, while seemingly clichéd, was resoundingly to “be yourself.” That’s a tall order to follow and it won’t seem like a difficult thing to do until you’re here. If there is one thing that becomes harder and harder to do, it is staying true to yourself. Social standards influence people at any institution, and Bowdoin is not exempt from that reality.

So I’ll say it again: be yourself. Do you. Follow your passions relentlessly and never apologize for doing so.

Eventually, you’ll find all the people here that you’re supposed to find. Once that happens, Bowdoin’s suffocating façade will melt away into a limitless and liberating place. It can take a frustrating amount of patience.

But here’s the test of its validity: on your first night—after Orientation, which you will make it through, I promise—take a walk around the campus and remember what you see and how you feel and how uncertain everything seems. Two years from now, do the same, and you’ll find that this place will have transformed into something magical. All it took was time.

Daniel Eloy is a member of the Class of 2015.