A few weeks ago, I was asked to be one of three seniors who shared at the last College Chapel of the semester. We seniors were asked to reflect on our time at Elon, and to talk a bit about our journey over the past four years. Below is what I read to a roomful of dear friends and faculty a few days ago. This was a morning I won’t forget for a long time.
On August 23rd, 2007, I left Stuttgart, Germany for Elon, North Carolina. Like every other college freshman, I was leaving my parents, my pets, and the place I had called home for a number of years. I wasn’t traveling down 95 to get to Elon, though – I was flying over the Atlantic, and it was a flight I’d take a number of times over the next four years. It was also a journey that would come to define me in many ways as I quickly became “the girl from Germany” during the first few days of college.
In too many societies, people are defined by what they do. Labels mean everything, and at Elon, we love them. In those first few days, freshmen are defined by where they’re from. Later on, it’s your major. Most of the time, it’s also what clubs you’re in, what groups you are affiliated with, if you’re Greek or not. As we work to fit into this awesomely busy place and make it home, we find our niches and we label ourselves like crazy. We create new identities, we redefine ourselves, and we are constantly on the road of self-discovery.
I share as many labels as my peers. I found my place in groups like Periclean Scholars and New Student Orientation; I was challenged academically as a College Fellow; I had a number of great internships and service opportunities; and I spent an indescribable semester in a little place called Ghana. I have been shaped and molded by these groups and experiences, and I wouldn’t take them back for a second. But here’s the thing. If you ask me what I will remember most about Elon, I have one word for you: relationships. The people I have become close with here have been the single greatest influence on my journey, and today, I want to tell you a little bit about my people.
My closest friends at Elon are the ones I met during my first few days here. I have lived with members of the Service Learning Community since day one, and it’s pretty incredible to look around and see how, while we have certainly made new friends along the way, we’ve still got our core. These are the friends who see me as more than “the girl from Germany,” who I have traveled to places like Honduras and Ghana and Sri Lanka with, who I know I can depend on for anything. Four years later, and it’s still us.
On Tuesday night, I had dinner for the last time at Beth & Bud Warner’s house. This is a couple that I have become incredibly close with, and they are two of my most influential mentors. I’ve stuck with Bud since he was my Global professor in the fall of freshman year, and we’ve shared a journey of research, mentorship, and countless conversations in his office and at their home. My relationship with these two professors who have never stopped guiding and challenging me is undoubtedly the most valuable piece of Elon I will be graduating with.
“Chicken” is the name of one of the sweet McEwan lunch ladies. Her real name is Darlene, but if you get her talking, she’ll tell you allllll about how her daddy and her family have called her Chicken since she was a little girl. She serves me salad whenever I have the chance to stop by, and she has taught me that everyone has a story to tell, and they want to tell it to those who will take a moment to stop and listen. Meeting individuals like Chicken around this campus has been so humbling, and while our relationship is by no means deep, it’s been impactful.
I love having the freedom to ask so many questions at Elon. Whether in the classroom or outside of it, I have always been encouraged to find my own way. In my IV small group, I’m able to challenge my friends’ views and be challenged right back. It’s rare, I think, to feel so safe in asking the hard questions and in pushing to learn more. Here, though, it’s an everyday thing, and so to those of you who have put up with my questions: thank you.
Professors like Cassie Kircher and Tom Arcaro have supported me so much over the past two years. Cassie, my advisor, taught me how to write. Creatively, that is, and particularly in the nonfiction genre. I am one of those quintessential college students who luckily discovered in university what she wanted to study and do with her life – and now, writing has become much more than just a passion. And Tom, well, he’s been a part of some of my best adventures here, whether he was Skyping me while I was in Ghana or we were working on a closing ceremony speech together while in Sri Lanka. I didn’t hesitate to ask him to write my Peace Corps recommendation letter, and I know we’ll keep up with each other for a long time.
If I could name all of the inspiring and encouraging people of this community I have crossed paths with and been influenced by, I would. But let me say this: the relationships we make here at Elon are so unique. I haven’t graduated yet, but I know enough about the world to know how special the ways I have invested and been invested in here are. It’s something I hope to never take for granted, and I will never forget the people who have lit up my path along the way.
I have spent four years adjusting to Elon, and I have been reshaped and molded in the process. I am not the same young woman I was on that day in August, who was sure of who she was. Instead, I am leaving Elon realizing it’s okay not to know exactly who I am yet, because my transformations are not over, and I embrace the fact that I am done with my changes.
Here is where, for me, faith comes in. It takes faith to be okay with not knowing what comes next, to trust that the things that have shaped us up to this point will carry us through our future adventures and hardships. I know both wonderful and hard days are coming, that life outside Elon will be a little less easy, and that some days, I’ll want nothing more than my support system here and to walk on these bricks and share an easy laugh with Chicken in McEwan.
But, I have to move on. And if I am able to find my cap and gown that I promptly stuffed in my closet the moment I received them, I will graduate in two weeks. I’ll graduate as a passionate, confused, dedicated young woman. I just may be something of a young intellectual, and I know I’ll be an emotional wreck. I’ll be eager, and scared, and ready, but most of all, I’ll be grateful.
One final thought. I am never hesitant to say how much I love Elon, or how influential my time here has been. Maybe because I came to Elon from thousands of miles away, but from the moment I got here, I have been planting roots. And somewhere along the way, this place became home. I like to think most of us graduating seniors have our own special relationship with Elon, but for me, it goes beyond words. And when I think back to Elon, I’ll recall countless nights leaving La Rose theater so, so fired up after a good – or bad – speaker. I’ll remember working behind the counter at Irazú, watching my peers work and talk and play. And I’ll remember the quiet mornings outside Alamance, looking around at this campus and enjoying it for everything it is, and everything it has been to me.