Anyone who knows me knows that I am very indecisive. Four years ago, I had a lot of trouble picking a college. I really did not even know if I wanted to go to school, and I felt like I was stuck between picking a school that I sort of didn’t want to go to in Ohio and one I sort of didn’t want to go to in Florida. I decided to choose Florida Southern College for selfish reasons. I wanted to live in a place where I could go to the beach in January or go kayaking in November. I was sick of always living in the same little city, where it felt like everything was always predictable. As a college student, I finally had the chance to chase my dreams without holding back. I opened my eyes to the community around me and got to know so many different types of people through six different jobs and many different college courses. When I decided to move to Florida, I was fascinated by the idea of being 1,000 miles away from the place I had spent my entire life. However, I did not know at the time that I would end up traveling much farther. Overall, the past four years have been full of the most daring and adventurous moments of my life.
Luckily, God had much bigger and better reasons for putting me in Lakeland. He put me there so that I could grow in many different ways and continue to develop a passion for helping others. He used me to teach kids how to analyze paragraphs when they did not even know how to write full sentences at first. He used me to help spread His love to children who would otherwise not even know He existed.
As my time in Lakeland, Florida comes to an end, I cannot help but to look back fondly on all of the amazing opportunities and adventures I was blessed with. The past four years have truly been full of the most exciting, but most challenging, times of my life. However, when I think about what I am going to miss the most about Lakeland, it is not the crazy adventures. The things I am going to miss the most are the same things I so desperately wanted to run away from four years ago: the simple, everyday moments.
I am going to miss living in a place where I always have friends surrounding me. I am going to miss being able to always find someone to go to Chipotle with, no matter what time of the day. I am going to miss being greeted with warm hugs and smiles from kids every day I walk in to work. I am going to miss staying at work late after teaching for 11 hours straight because a kid begs me to play him in a game of pool. The little things may seem like they do not matter, but they are really what make life so amazing. Thank you, Lakeland, for helping me to appreciate the simple things and make a positive impact in the simplest ways.
I taught first graders how to read and write entire sentences, when they did not even know the alphabet to begin with. They showed me that anything is possible.
I showed them how to make paper airplanes. They taught me how to “Whip and Nae Nae.”
I taught kindergarteners how to add and subtract, and I helped tenth graders understand polynomial expressions. They taught me to count my blessings more.
I helped kids cope with break-ups, house evictions, and family deaths. They reminded me that sometimes we need to forget about all of the stressors in life and just enjoy the moment.
I may have initially moved there for the warm weather, but I am going to miss the people of Lakeland the most.
Thank you for reminding me that emotions are universal languages. People of all cultures and races understand smiles, laughter, sadness, anger, and love. The best relationships develop when you open your heart to people who are different from you, sometimes in almost every aspect.
Thank you for building my self-confidence. I have become so much prouder of my abilities because I have surrounded myself with positive colleagues and friends who constantly appreciate me.
Thank you for trusting me. Four years ago, I had little experience with research or working with children. I have been able to make positive impacts on the equality, effectiveness, and safety of education through research and real-life experiences because professors and employers placed trust in me.
Most importantly, thank you for giving me the countless opportunities to improve myself and my community. I know that I am a better person now than I was when I first moved away to college, and I can only hope that I left the city of Lakeland a better place than it was four years ago.
At first, I was upset when I realized that life was going to go on without me once I left. Sure, people will miss me, but my friends will continue to hang out, my professors will continue to teach and do research, my co-workers will continue to do their jobs, and my kids will continue to learn and grow. However, the fact that life goes on without me is actually very beautiful and humbling. The progress and positive impacts that I have made will not disappear just because I have left. After all, the whole point of doing something is to make a lasting impact.
Mentor, Ohio will always be my hometown and the place I grew up; however, I will forever consider Lakeland, Florida to be the place where I began to find my purpose in life and truly started to make an impact. I know that I will always take everything I’ve learned in the past four years with me wherever I go. Goodbye, Lakeland. I hope I have done a good enough job so that you hardly even realize I’m gone.