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How To College Right: Notes for My Olympic Sister

By Michael D. Ledecky, Crimson Staff Writer

“Hi Crimson Sports editors, I’ll be a freshman this fall at Harvard, and I’m planning to comp for the sports section. Next week I’ll be in Omaha for the U.S. Olympic Trials to watch my sister swim. Would you like me to help cover the Harvard athletes at Trials? Best, Michael Ledecky. “

I like to joke that I’m the longest-tenured member of The Crimson’s 142nd Guard. With my 15-year-old sister, Katie, slated to compete at her first Olympic Trials, I saw a chance to get a two-month head start on my comp of The Crimson’s sports board. Martin Kessler and the Brothers Samuels warmly received my reporting proposal on June 19, 2012, and the rest is history. Over the next two weeks, I wrote my first two stories for The Crimson’s website, met my future roommate on the opposite side of a post-race interview, and watched my sister take the first step toward Olympic gold.

My Crimson experience was inseparably intertwined with my sister’s rise to the top of her sport. As I watched her smash world records and rack up wins, she not only inspired me as her number one fan but also placed in perspective the stories I’ve had the chance to tell in these pages.

Conveniently for Katie and me, bachelor’s degrees and Olympics are quadrennial. I imagine the next four months or so will bring some of the most confusing and exciting days of our lives. After the summer’s competitions and any attendant fame those bring, Katie will enroll at Stanford next year. Meanwhile, I’ll be trying my hand at the full-time job thing back home in D.C.

I’m probably not in the best position to offer Katie college advice. She’s the most mature and well-adjusted 19-year-old you’ll ever meet. She has nerves of steel and works harder than anyone I know. And if all goes well this summer, I suspect she will be a slightly more popular freshman than I was when she starts classes this September. If she were willing to listen to me, though, I’d have a few tips:

1. Push yourself. You know, Katie, that thing you do when you’re 15 meters ahead of the field at the end of an 800-meter freestyle? Yeah, make sure you’re doing that outside the pool as well.

I never thought when I moved into Canaday C that I’d step behind a radio mic during my time here. I wasn’t a particularly confident public, extemporaneous speaker, and I hated the sound of my own voice. But I realized junior year that I could do more as The Crimson’s hockey beat reporter. I figured going on air as a color commentator would push me to improve my knowledge of the team and the game.

I never quite mastered the art of radio, but it got me out of my comfort zone, and I’m glad it did. I became more confident in my voice and what I had to say. The crossover also helped forge a multimedia coverage team that might not have otherwise cohered. Jake, Kurt, Matt, and Savanna—it’s been a pleasure working with you. That leads me to my second point…

2. Find friends who care. Katie, this probably shouldn’t be a problem since you’ll have 25 sisters waiting for you on the Stanford swim and dive team, but it’s worth thinking about.

When I say friends who care, I’m not just talking about the people who take a passive interest in your life. I’m talking about the people who help you push yourself.

I’ve found many examples of this type of person at 14 Plympton Street. My fellow editors have helped make me a better writer, a better reporter, a better student, and a better friend. They’ve been open and honest about my flaws and weaknesses. They’ve been a source of support and strength. And they’ve believed in me when I’ve doubted myself. For that, I thank them.

3. Ask questions. I visited the registrar’s office a few weeks ago to view my admissions file. It contained a copy of my common app essay, which was a reflection on my experience as a high school journalist framed around the idea of asking the right questions.

As a journalist, student, and person, I’ve possibly asked more questions over the last four years than over my first 18. These questions have fed my curiosity and personal development and have determined what I’ve learned and what I can teach others.

Overall, my perspective on the subject has changed slightly since I wrote that essay. Sure, the quality of your questions matters, but it’s dangerous to dismiss the importance of the quantity you ask as well. Whether it’s picking up the right detail for an article or making an important life decision, I’ve found it’s necessary to stumble around in the dark for a bit. I disagree with the notion that there are no bad questions, but even the bad questions can lead to helpful answers, however circuitous the path in between.

That, Katie, just about does it for my spiel. Exciting days are ahead. To cover the bases with Mom and Dad, I’d also like to encourage you to avoid various forms of collegiate debauchery during your time on the Farm. You can save that for Senior Week.

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