As I started my graduate school journey in student affairs a little over a year ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my experience. I had greatly enjoyed my time at Illinois Wesleyan University, and felt solidified in my friendships made there and through Kappa Delta Sorority. As some undergraduate friends told me, I wasn’t coming to graduate school to make friends. This wasn’t my first year of college; it was a professional development opportunity. Little did I know last May, but this statement could not have been more wrong.
I started my Graduate Assistantship with Eastern Illinois University’s Health Education Resource Center (HERC), and I immediately clicked with my five fellow grads and our supervisors. We worked together so well that we joked that we wouldn’t even need the friends in our respective programs once Fall began because we already had our “HERC Girls.” Fall came, and I quickly learned that I was a part of the most wonderful cohort. We get each other. We support each other. We care for one another’s success. I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes now at the thought of this mythical “perfect cohort,” so I should be clear that we aren’t that. We have our disagreements. Some days we drive one another crazy (how could you not when you spend 5+ days a week together), and I have no doubt that I have qualities that my peers don’t love as well. However, my cohort along with the class that has just graduated, and our professors, really are a family. Some of my favorite memories of my first year happened during our weekly family dinners that took place during break time of our Research Methods class. They challenged my views every day, and supported me to become a better professional this past year.
My students have been another huge contributor to my first student affairs grad year. Again, not perfect. Some days I would come home in tears because I didn’t know how to reach them best, or I felt like I wasn’t connecting with them. This would be where my cohort and my HERC Girls and supervisors would support me with suggestions to be better next time. And, my students really are amazing. The majority of the time I have to actively stop myself from gushing about their accomplishments on social media because they really are achieving wonderful things. From my Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity men who go above and beyond every day to be True Gentlemen and make someone’s day brighter, to my wonderful Peer Educators and interns through the HERC who put in so much effort to help our campus be healthier and make the best choices possible; I really am blessed to work with these talented students.
It is for these reasons and many more that I’m already sad before even beginning this coming school year. The goodbyes are sad, and I know there will always be more goodbyes to come. In the past few months I’ve said goodbye to some amazingly talented “second years,” as they move away for their next chapter in Student Affairs. I’ve said goodbye to professional staff whose connections were instrumental in my first year achievements. I’ve said goodbye to all five of my fellow “HERC Girls” as they moved on to new adventures. And, hardest of all, I’ve said goodbye to a class of students who I already miss dearly. You watch these students struggle, and grow, and achieve, and succeed, and then they leave. And it’s really hard. I know the common phrase is that “it’s not a goodbye, it’s a see you later,’ but realistically, that may not be the case. It might actually be goodbye for good when we give that student the last hug after they’ve walked across the stage. But, in The Field of Goodbyes, sometimes that’s ok. It’s ok because we make an impact. We make a difference. Hopefully, in the short time we have together, we help that student become the man or the woman they most want to be.
I suppose in The Field of Goodbyes, the silver lining is the Hellos at the start of each new year. I’m so excited to welcome a new CSA cohort, to continue to build relationships with my “New HERC Girls,” and to be a part of a new class of students’ journeys. However, I know that my turn to say goodbye to my EIU family will come faster than I’d like, so, in the meantime I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that “it’s not a goodbye, it’s a see you later.”