In December, on my last day teaching students, I was overwhelmed with the amount of love and appreciation I was showered with. That day, saying goodbye to my 17 kindergarten students felt like the hardest thing to do. How could I say goodbye to the sweetest, funniest and cutest children who have brought me so much happiness day after day?
If you know anything about me, you know I’m a crier. But that day, through tears, I sat in a circle with my students and tried to remind them (and myself, quite honestly) that it’s okay to be sad when saying goodbye to someone or something. It’s OK to have big emotions, and it’s OK to cry.
And do you know why ?
Because goodbyes are hard. They are not meant to be easy. As cliché as it sounds, the harder the goodbye just means how great someone, something, or somewhere was for you. Saying goodbye to my first real class of students was incredibly hard, but saying goodbye to Penn State and the people who have helped make this place a home for the past four years might be harder.
Two of my students gave me a book on my last day called “A Letter From Your Teacher on the Last Day of School” by Shannon Olsen. There was this little note inside. It’s an incredibly sweet book, and it’s also what inspired me for the title and the gist of this column.
In case you don’t spend your free time reading and collecting children’s books like me, here’s the Cliff Notes version of what the book is about: it’s basically a letter from a teacher to her students. summarizing the year they had, all the memories they shared, what they learned and what they overcame.
I think about this book and how it may relate to me on my last day of school as a student. I think of all the things I learned in college, where I started and where I am now.
I started here as a freshman who proudly followed in the footsteps of my father, my sister, my cousins, my aunts and my uncles who preceded me and who are themselves proud Penn State alumni. In a school as large as this, I quickly realized that State College really felt like home. Living at Curtin Hall has brought me the absolute best memories and best friends from all over the world.
Whether it was tactfully planning prank wars alongside my friends, hosting competitions to see who could put the most cheeseballs in their mouths, or baking Rice Krispie treats in my dorm at 2am thinking about the time i spent in that old, naughty dorm and really, wouldn’t change it for the world. It brought me friends, memories, and enough joy and laughter to last a lifetime.
Freshman year was also the year I joined Onward State. Honestly, applying to Onward State was an easier decision than deciding which school to attend. I have my two favorite Onward State alumni in this world to thank for that: my sister Caitlin and my cousin Emma. I don’t think there are enough words in this world to sum up how much this blog and everything it has given me truly means to me.
As an education specialist with absolutely no intention of entering the world of journalism, I joined Onward State because I love to write and tell stories, but that’s not why I stayed. I stayed because of the people. I stayed because of the times we sang at Onward State parties until 2am and the cops showed up for noise complaints. I stayed because of the times we all wandered into Yallah after the ceremonies. I stayed because I never realized you could have a group of people who felt like family almost as much as the people you are biologically connected to.
Every member of the Onward State staff has amazed and inspired me. The talent, dedication, skill and creativity of each member of staff has been nothing short of extraordinary. I look forward to being a washed up alum very soon by reading and reposting every story and picture you all produce.
Sophomore year came with a lot of firsts for me: my first apartment, my first real teaching experience and, as we can all tell, my first (and hopefully the only) time I needed to have such an amazing year. cut short due to a global pandemic. Although it sucked, frankly, it came at a time in my life when I really needed to be home. I needed to be with family.
What we thought was just a few weeks at home turned into a few months, but we found joy in all the chaos. We had family cornhole tournaments, mid-week shore trips, dance parties and so much more. For the four of us, as life goes on and my sister and I grow up, I look back on this time now as an unexpected gift, as this will probably end up being the last time we will all live together under one roof permanently.
This time still reminds me to this day that when everything in this world is scary, unpredictable and constantly changing, the one thing that will remain constant in my life is family. Still.
To Caitlin, my big sister and my absolute best friend in the whole world, I can’t thank you enough for letting me blow off your steam at all hours of the night, calling you every two hours (literally) and having endless sleepovers with sisters. To mom and dad, thank you for letting me follow my dreams and supporting me every step of the way. Thank you for being the perfect shoulder to cry on during life’s most difficult times, but also for being my favorite people on this planet to laugh and smile with. Thank you for the surprise visits, FaceTime calls and daily goodnight texts. Dad and I will always reign as family cornhole champions.
The last few years in college have flown by, but they have taught me some of life’s greatest lessons. Notably, it’s faster to order Chick-fil-A at the store than at the drive-thru, Gaffeoke’s best song is Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and it’s always more fun to sing and dance like if no one was watching in a bar just sit and just watch.
But, if you’re me, you’re probably going to be front and center. And in this scenario, I guess literally everyone behind you IS looking at you, but I clearly don’t care about the potential embarrassment.
For the past two years, I have thought of my home as a quaint little house on South Gill Street. If you’ve ever walked this path, yes, we’re home with the Joe Paterno and Guy Fieri cardboard cutouts in our window, as well as the newly added random play kitchen on our porch. Gill Street’s heritage runs deep in my family, so it was a no-brainer for me to end up here at some point in my college career.
I’m forever grateful for this place, the people who have lived here, everything we’ve been through together and how we’ve come out stronger on the other side. This place wouldn’t have felt like home if we hadn’t collectively hosted bad reality TV shows, shared Friendsgiving meals and taco nights, and laughed till we cried the whole way. .
Over the past four years, I’ve learned the biggest lessons by simply reflecting on my own actions and decisions and trying to improve myself. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it, it’s okay to prioritize and stand up for yourself, there’s nothing wrong with wearing your emotions on your sleeve and that there’s nothing wrong not be OK.
College has blessed me with the absolute best time of my life, but also some of the toughest times. And in times like these, it’s taking care of yourself, surrounding yourself with people who uplift and support you, and always holding your head up high that’s important.
So in my letter to myself on my last day of school, I congratulated myself and was like, “Wow, you did it.” I told myself exactly the same thing I told my kindergarten students – that goodbyes are hard, but every door has to close for another to open.
Penn State and State College will always feel like home, and I know I’ll be back, probably decked out in White Out suits because I can never resist my dad’s antics.
But that specific door and that chapter is coming to an end, and that’s OK. Whatever happens next, I just hope it brings me a fraction of the joy I’ve experienced for the past four years. After all, life is better with a smile and when you dance like no one is watching.