To you, my friends

We’ve reached the end—again—and I still don’t fully know how to handle the first few weeks without students on campus. The buildings slowly empty and, one by one, then all at once, the lights turn off. The music stops. The hustle simmers and bustle slows. I stand in the lobby of the 500-person building wishing that everyone was back here for a photo, something to remember this time that we’ve spent stretching each other’s hearts. Each floor becomes the home of all the sweetest memories that we hold close, each room a set of walls observing us be who we are, and each person, a tiny miracle that we wished we’d gotten and now we did. I put my hands in my pockets and take a deep breath. Another year down. Gratitude fills me.

The truth is, no matter how many days we’d wished away, hoping it would be the end sooner than it did, we were never really ready for the finality. We weren’t ready to go on our last round or attend our last meeting. As much as we might have wished for it to come, we sat amongst each other in the last staff meeting wishing there was just one more. At some point along the way, we didn’t come to terms with the fact that we were doing some of our last things together in the last six weeks of the semester. The last sleeps and the last conversation with that one resident that you wish you’d gotten to know earlier. The last trip for coffee with each other. The last program you planned with a peer and the last time you called for backup. The last time you got to spend with one another and the final set of laughs shared way too late into the night. It’s a reminder that good things do, indeed, come to an end, even when we try to run from it. Still, we got to do so much together. That’s something that makes me smile today.

For many of this, this was a hard year. We can never really imagine in August how we’ll turn out in May, how heartbreak might come at a time we least expect it to, how we might find joy in spaces that we hadn’t thought would be full, and how we’ll be changed forever because of it. Every first day of school, I think about how, in just a few months, we’ll all leave again and I’m reminded of how critical it can be to take that moment in, to breath deeply and exhale, and to find resolve in the steps I’m (we’re) about to take. Time is non-renewable; we get to spend it with each other for such a short period, and so it becomes precious in an instant. Thinking back to that day this past fall, I’m reminded once again that no matter how much I try to plan and prepare, there will be twists and turns, life unexpectedly startling me into the next tomorrow. But every time, I got to do it with you.

I wish I could write each of you a poem. Something you can take with you to new buildings and teams, new cities and jobs, new supervisors and friends. I wish I could be the folded photograph in your wallet that comes tumbling out when you least expect it; a reminder of how things used to be, of all the ways we grew this past year. I’ll settle as a memory you carry instead, something vivid and encouraging. Hopefully something that evokes light. I wasn’t perfect but I certainly tried to be. I knew on day one just as I know now: you are worth the time. You are worth the space. You are worth the hours and the miles we traveled. You are worth it every single time. Here’s a letter to remind you:

This letter is for you, my friends.

For every time you didn’t believe in yourself but finally did, a whole world cracking open, something new and uncharted. For every moment you cussed in the lobby and quickly apologized, receiving the “Robbie face,” and resolving to be better. For the times we shared tears and the times we swapped stories, life lessons, or music preferences. For every walking one-on-one and every Starbucks trip (I’m convinced we are made of caffeine). For every time you thought you couldn’t, but you tried anyway. Every staff trip and moments you thought I was mad at you (I wasn’t (except for the back door)), every early morning or late night staff meeting, every message sent to see if you overslept for a gathering. For every program and every conversation that changed me. For every person you changed, too. For all the hours you spent crafting and rounding, every moment you wished would end and every moment you wished wouldn’t. Every mistake and triumph. I have a heart full of gratitude.

We made it.

Thanks for making this place a home for so many and for committing yourself to the folks living here. It wasn’t that long ago that we all sat in the first meetings, wide-eyed and hopeful, wishing for a year of building. My goodness, did you build.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Next year will be different for each you. My hope is that you put your best foot forward, especially on your worst days. There will be more days like that in your future—the kind where everything seems to be going wrong and you’re late, feeling heavy with disappointment in yourself. My hope is that you take a step anyways. And that you rest when you get the chance. I know many of you don’t know what that word means and that’s okay. You will soon enough.

I hope you take every chance to adventure and you forgive yourself when you mess up. We are built to make mistakes. We are a bunch of imperfect cells just trying to make it through. If we never messed up, life might be pretty boring and definitely bereft meaning. I hope you know that you never have to go through darkness alone and that you know I’m in your corner just as I’ve always been. Many of you will span the globe in the coming months—new states, territories unbound from routines and favorite places—and I hope you take advantage of all the clean slates in your future. My mother tells me that we don’t get many in this life and that we should make the most of it every time we find ourselves with something blank to shapeshift. I hope you make the most of it.

Do not forget each other. No matter how many trials and tribulations you faced, you mattered to each other in some small way this year. That’s important. Doing anything less than remembering every moment of laughter and sadness, of joy and frustration, would not be meaningful.

Feel what you feel. It will make you a better human to be able to walk through each emotion from beginning to end than to run from it. Some of you know what I’m talking about because you’ve done a lot of it this semester. There is no finality to any feeling; you will get tired of running and it will all catch up to you. Feel it. Lean into it. Sit with it and explore it if you can. And in every moment in between, be gentle with yourself.

The future cannot happen if you don’t find a way to love people deeply. So, at the end of each day, I hope you think about how you love people well, including yourself. You are worthy of every good thing coming to you.

Thanks for making this year beautiful and for giving other people hope. Without you, goodbyes would be easy. I’m grateful that you’ve made them difficult for me. I’ll miss you more than you know. You are always welcome back into any space of mine. I have so much love in my heart for you.

Your friend,

Published by Robbie Williford

Writer from Flint, Michigan. Partial but slowly becoming. Educator. Storyteller. Bashful. Paying attention to the quiet.

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