by Michael King
A little over two years ago, at the tail end of a rigorous grad school search, I found myself driving home from an on-campus interview at Eastern Illinois University. Prior to my visit, I was hopeful that this place might feel “right.” That I would somehow be given some sign that this was the correct next step. As I drove home, my mind racing over my interview answers and the interactions I had with staff and students at EIU, I found myself fighting with hope. I wanted this. I wanted it badly enough to allow the pesky, vulnerable light of hope in.
A few days later, in the muggy ambiance of my room in old Botswin (my A/C unit had recently checked out of the relationship), I fielded a phone call and, heart racing, I breathlessly accepted an offer. I was going to EIU!
Today, two years later, my grad school journey stands before me like a ridiculous, beautiful blur. Acquaintances became friends, friends became family. Students grew into their stories and graciously invited me to participate. There were late nights, bottomless stacks of research, coffee runs, senseless debates, wild bouts of laughter, and hugs through hard times. Learning in almost every possible form. My grad peers and I defended theses, found our voices, and became much more to each other than we anticipated. Myself, I grew tremendously. In a very real way, grad school enabled me to begin truly pulling threads at the great riddle of myself. There is no question: EIU was “right” for me. This is exactly where I needed to be. These are exactly the human beings I needed to be with.
I became an RA at Ball State in the Fall of my Sophomore year. Prior to that experience, I had enjoyed college, but I had yet to find “my place.” Without a doubt, being an RA changed all of that for me completely. In my three years as an RA, I connected with incredible residents who bravely followed their stories, I bonded and grew alongside incredible staff members, and I began truly interacting with leadership. Moving into graduate school, I could not wait to supervise RAs. Looking back through these photos, reflecting on the 20 faces of the RAs I was able to think of as “my” RAs, I am unbelievably grateful for the experience. These are tremendously strong, brave, amazing people. Leadership always goes two ways, and these 20 human beings have always helped to challenge me, support me, and point me to my light. It was my goal, every day, to try and do the same in return.
With two different staffs also came two different supervisors. The two women I called “boss” during my time at EIU were both willing to fight in the trenches with me, sorting out the unique kind of chaos that comes along with this job title, and they both worked to facilitate my growth. Lisa taught me the values of preparation, of inner strength, and of the significance of making time for play. Monique taught me to step into my own, to put one foot in front of the other in chaotic times, and to laugh when possible. Both of them selflessly shared my time with the thesis, with my grad friends, and with an endless of array of student leadership commitments, and both did so with full support. I will follow this example as I move into supervising a grad.
When I interviewed with EIU, I asked about the possibility of getting some experience with leadership development. When I was granted the opportunity to serve as an advisor to NRHH, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. Two years later, when I think of advising student leaders, my mind floods to a ridiculous variation of memories. Cutting honeysuckle at Douglas-Hart, yelling “EIU” endlessly at IRHA, dressing as a toy soldier at Winter Wonderland, hard conversations about growth, selling T-shirts in the quad, campfire songs and conversations, one-on-ones at Starbucks and Dairy Queen and – yes – Los Potrillos, teary moments of pride and celebration. With NRHH, as well as with my buildings’ hall councils, I was granted additional opportunities to see students take risks, move out of their comfort zones, and grow into themselves.
Advising is an entirely different animal than supervising. With supervision, though students certainly need support and deserve to feel motivated, there is a built-in incentive: employment. Advising, however, involves motivating students who (more than likely) are doing work solely because they are choosing to. The students I have advised over the past two years have proven to be incredibly driven, talented, excited, passionate human beings.
And these. My comrades, my friends, my family. My graduate peers have, at times, been the only humans in the world who understood exactly what I was going through. When we first met, we were guarded and bright, resting on the social skills we’d gained through careers as student leaders. These were important people, I knew, and we would almost certainly be friends. As with everything else, however, I truly underestimated the significance of the handprints these people would leave on my life.
Two years later, I look at the faces of these people and my heart glows. Memories of late-night adventures, ridiculous conversations, laughter at the ends of our ropes. Endless Mexican food, trips to Starbucks and Huck’s and whatever-calories-can-make-the-world-right, walks around campus. Hours and hours and hours of classroom time, but maybe even more hours of volunteered time. Office visits and apartment crashes. What a wonder it is to live and work in such close proximity with such outstanding human beings.
My grad family has inspired me to be brave, to remember my light, and to work through the chaos, no matter how long the road ahead may seem. These people have become non-negotiable. Family.
I am sure there are many reasons people choose to go to work in the field of Student Affairs. As the rest of this entry reflects, the opportunity to engage with students and their stories is a phenomenal undertaking. It is a reciprocal blessing that, at times, feels like an absurd bargain. (After all, we get paid to do this!) The truth is, as I believe shows through is any discussion I take part in surrounding the work that we do, that we inherit a sort of ridiculous, wonderful family throughout the work that we do. We come in contact with people who daily choose to work hard, challenge themselves, and strive for the betterment of the environments they inhabit.
EIU has become home, and – as with any home – there is a distinct feeling of heartbreak that comes along with saying goodbye. As with any goodbye, however, there is a limit to how complete this departure truly is, as I know I will find myself often reliving the memories I have made here. The handprints of the people I have known will inform my future steps, and the stories we have made here will echo from my lips again and again. The time has come to close the chapter, but – as with any chapter – the story remains to be reread, its pages brushed by amicable fingertips. To any and all involved, thank you, thank you, thank you. That is all there is to be said.