I ran into three former students yesterday. Although I have been teaching on the Texas A&M campus for awhile now, I hardly ever write about my experiences with teaching. There are a few reasons for this, the biggest being the legal and ethical issues of writing about a vulnerable student population over which I have a notable form of influence. In other words, a part of teaching is grading and with FERPA existing there is little I can say about student performance. As far as stories from the classroom go, I respect my students’ dignity and right to privacy and want my classroom to be a safe space of learning rather than a place where I collect stories for the purpose of a blog.
In short, I want to protect myself and my students, so I don’t often write about my classroom. But I certainly do love that I have a classroom and I’ll say this; my students are super cool individuals. I love running into them on campus and off, and I have seen students at Brookshire Brothers, basketball games, farmers markets, the MSC, and everywhere in between.
Not only did I run into three former students yesterday, but as I was walking around campus I also ran into two current collaborators and someone I recruited to an undergraduate organization three years ago. Off campus, I ran into a former professor at my new church. At my old church, I ran into a student who works in one of my best friends’ offices. I also crossed paths with someone who had attended one of the mentoring sessions I lead as a part of my graduate school job. At my graduate school job, I co-facilitated a session with someone I had met on a graduate school panel months before. In Bolton at my primary job, I realized that I now work with someone I had actually met years before when I was a student teacher.
Needless to say, the connections have become so intertwined that I find no use in untangling them anymore. I have been at Texas A&M for almost eight years… and it shows. I have worked for the College of Engineering as a peer teacher, Kyle Field as a suite attendant, the Graduate and Professional School and the Center for Teaching Excellence as a GANT, College Station ISD as a substitute teacher, Bryan ISD as a student teacher, A&M United Methodist Church,TAMU Student Government, the College of Education, Mathnasium, the MSC… the list goes on and on for so long that I seem to recognize every face (student, faculty, and staff) from my time living, serving, and learning on this campus.
While it's true that College Station has become a home for me, swarming with familiar faces and interwoven webs of connection, most people who pass through here don’t tend to stick around so long. This uncanny truth makes living in a transient town really, really difficult at times. Yes, I have been involved in opportunities all across these cities and have built a wonderful, surprising network because of it. But the number of people that I have loved who have left is also alarmingly high. When a friend of mine graduated last year I told everyone around me that my last tie to my undergraduate degree was gone. She had been a freshman when I was senior and is to this day a dear friend. She is one of the people who helped make this semi-permanent residence into a full time home… but then she left. That is the curse of living anywhere too long, having to say goodbye to those who helped make this transient town feel like home in the first place.
Some days this city and this campus feels like a home. In the moments where I come home to my cat in the first apartment I have lived in for more than a year, I feel at home. In the moments where I attend two churches and know most of the faces at both, I feel at home. In the moments where I run into a friend from one social circle at another job or place I did not expect, I feel at home. In the moments where I get a tight hug from a close friend after a long day, I feel at home.
Other days this city and this campus just remind me of what is no longer here. In the moments where I drive past an old apartment and wonder how a past friend is doing now. In the moments when I go to football games alone and feel the absence of a friend beside me. In the moments where I attend a church and catch myself looking for a friend that is no longer here.
This balance, between absence and presence, newness and residual memories, one degree, two degrees, halfway through three degrees means that this city and this campus have meant different things to me each year that I have been here. As I embark on my last few weeks of coursework at Texas A&M university, I am more aware of this than ever. Loss is a part of life, but as many things around me come to an end, I also have to remember that gain is as well. The first time I extended my time in College Station by changing majors, I lost a lot of friends and years of work. But I gained a new best friend, a new mentor, and a new perspective that led me to different countries and places. Those years are still rose colored in my mind when I think back on my time here. When I decided to extend my time the second time, by applying to a 4+1 masters program, I lost members of my cohort as we graduated and began to teach in different schools around the state. But I also gained a better idea of who I am, a job that I loved, and another whole set of characters that shaped my journey forever by inspiring me to apply to a PhD program. That was the last time I made a decision that extended my time here and in the two years since I have made that decision, I have experienced more losses than the other six years combined. They came swiftly and cut deep… yet the gains I made also outweigh anything that has come before. I have more meaningful friendships, more loving mentors, a more robust and diverse support system than ever before. This city is not responsible for all that has been taken away from me, nor is it responsible for all that I have gained. But it has been the backdrop to all of it. Tears. Laughter. Real, true, beautiful love.
As I reminisce, the only meaningful conclusion that I can draw is this. Living in a college town is like living in a theme park or on a movie set. It’s all the same, but it’s all beautiful. The grass is soft and green and half of it is fake. People come and go and gawk. They live in it, but no one sticks around long. The trains come and go without the Wild West antics I would expect at Knott’s Berry Farm and buses depart without the reminder to remain seated like I would see on a Monorail, but it’s all still delightfully gauche.
Cheers to two more years.