The Longest Blog Post Ever About Why I Pour a Bottomless Cup of Gratitude for My Rambler Roots

Did I get on here over the weekend to write some sort of insightful, gratitude-filled piece on my first year back in Chicago (anniversary: 7/28) & never actually finish it? Yes, yes I did.

But I had the most amazing experience today that may be a better indicator of this (or at least a better starting place to describe this) sentiment than any paragraph without an anecdote would have been.

I had a work meeting with my supervisor at a café in Rogers Park today. It’s a great new neighborhood Pillar (ha, ha) that opened after I’d already moved back to Ohio for AmeriCorps, but my dear friends Alli, Matt, and Alex had introduced me to with rave reviews. I love suggesting to meet people there because it’s a sign of vibrant, passionate, and community-conscious development happening in the beloved RoPo that was my heart’s home for so many years (and, in some ways, still is). After my meeting, I stayed to work for a little while, but with the fantastic weather conditions and my mind’s level of distractedness, I decided to close my computer just after 3pm and head toward the lake.

I grabbed a book and went to a spot on Loyola’s campus that is very special to me—the back of Crown where a lush grassy incline faces Lake Michigan. Since graduating, they’ve installed and tended an absolutely thriving medieval garden, so I plopped next to that and dove into my reading. Martha, a glowing & lovely rising Junior (go Ramblers!) who’s a Loyolacappella superstar, and I agreed to meet up for an afternoon stroll along the shore. We did walk to the south end of campus along the lake, but then she suggested we hit up Metropolis for their deliciously-on-spot-and-far-better-than-most-coffee-shops’ iced chai (plug!). We schlepped our bevvies to Berger Park, and I told her it was among my most treasured spots when I was a student; once I’d even fallen in love on a park bench there and hoped the sun would never rise (spoiler alert: it did, at 7am, and I was there to see it, and to this day I still can’t believe I did not get jumped that night). We climbed onto the rocks (which is “illegal,” but is it really…?) and basked in the sun for over an hour, talking about friendship, our memories, any emotions bouncing around inside us, and why we push away people we love. She is a marvelous human being, you know, and you should all get to know her.

She also mentioned she worked for/constantly haunted the Office of First-Year Experience, which I had also done as an undergrad and had actually (proudly) been invited to be one of 5 original student staff members the first year the office came into re-existence in Ramblerland. I asked if she‘d accompany me to her newfound temple of student awesomeness and (duh) she agreed. As we walked up the steps to the second floor of Sullivan, I saw giant block letters I had made my junior year (!!!!!) taped to the door of a room used by FYE and my heart rejoiced in homecoming.

Walking into the office, I saw both my bosses’ doors closed for private meetings. Marty-tart filled the anticipation of my waiting by chattering with office staff, and a voice from behind a cubicle wall teased, “Is that Martha? What is she doing here?” Martha laughed and walked around the wall to say hi to the owner of the voice and I followed, only to find myself facing Scott– someone who’d graduated from LUC at the end of my first year there.  To avoid even more sappy storytelling, I’ll just say that some of Scott’s friends were my first welcome wagon/Molly cheerleading squad members as I acclimated to life at Loyola, and he has since been a kind, enthusiastic, and somehow ever-present face whenever I find myself on campus or in the neighborhood. It was so great to see him doing something that’s very needed and that he loves at a place he has given so much of his heart to; hearing what his mover-and-shaker besties are up to was so fun, too.

As I sat with Scott, Fr. Daffron (boss #1) walked out of his office and gave a shoulder squeeze as he passed (anyone who knows him surprised that he had to run to another engagement and didn’t have time to converse? #nope) to tell me it was great to see me, and then Bridget (boss #2) came out of her office for a big embrace and catch-up session. We talked about changes that have happened, ties that remain, people whose paths we cross (or don’t anymore), and things we both have our sights set on for the future. For those of you who’ve ever been privileged (read: badgered) to play “3 questions” with me, BWes is who I acquired it from. She is a graceful, gracious spirit with a heart filled with compassion and an incredibly sharp mind for creating something out of nothing.

Since she has a baby (!!!!!!) now, Bridget and I said our goodbyes after hitting a few essential points, and I walked back to my car on the other end of campus. En route, I saw the newest lovely additions to campus (of course stopping to picture message a photo of the ridiculous Los Lobos to Chaz) and found myself reeling with nostalgia and pride. Rambler life is great, you guys. I don’t miss college, but I do miss the familiarity and unquestioned belonging that came with my time at Loyola. It was great to be reminded of how formative my undergraduate experience was to my life philosophy, my mode of operation, and my understanding of people (and how I choose to treat them). I chalked my afternoon visit up as a success.

But, of course, it wasn’t over. Things rarely are when we expect them to be. 15 feet from my car stood an old resident of mine from my Companions stint; this handsome lad also happened to be the sibling of a friend who was very integral to my senior year experience. Matt, the stander about whom I write, just graduated in May and was all sorts of adult-seeming. It was so good to get a hug from and hear about his life. He is feeling so accomplished, so happy, so fulfilled, so ambitious– all things I wished for my past residents as they journeyed on. He is also closely tied to so many other former residents of mine, and I got to hear a laundry list of personal paths: I’m-going-to-Rome-as-an-SLA-in-20-days, he’s-on-a-5-year-MBA-track, she’s-not-settling-and-is-looking-for-a-job-she-loves, he-got-accepted-to-law-school-at-ND, she-followed-her-heart-back-home-to-be-closer-to-her-mom, he-found-a-new-passion-in-nursing-and-is-now-changing-his-path-to-pursue-that, he-just-started-a-new-job-he-loves-in-Tennessee. I died a thousand times over hearing about the awesomeness of this new batch of committed, powerful, loving people taking society by storm. I could have stood there for hours beaming on behalf of these individuals who are boldly defining their own success, but we all live on borrowed time and so infinite moments like that sometimes just live forever in another part of the space-time continuum. As I said goodbye, I was ambushed with a brief hello and hug from another Loyolacappellan who is superb and hella skilled and an incredibly sweet being. The love and energy from so many extraordinary Remarkables (capitalized, pluralized, nounified) was quite an extraordinary gift for me to be presented with on “some idle Tuesday,” but I guess Tuesday people have a way of stumbling into the richness of such an underestimated weekday, don’t we?

And yet, as deep as my appreciation runs for this day and these experiences and the hospitality and the cool people who take the time to know me, that isn’t really the core of what I’m getting at here.

I always hear that leadership is the art of preparing others to lead themselves (thereby creating an endless chain of people who constantly enable others to lead), and while I spent many of my sweetest Loyola years assuming leadership roles and titles, I also spent much of those years questioning my effectiveness and my impact—not to mention the time I spent doubting LUC’s ability to develop and enhance innovative leadership in its students. But my visit to campus today was a brilliant, slap-in-the-face reminder that my work and my example were not all in vain. I am so humbled and so thankful to walk around Loyola and see things that still bear my mark as a legacy to the school I love so, so deeply. I am fortunate and grateful to hear the stories of students who are chasing their dreams, achieving the unexpected, growing more into themselves every day, and finding ways to overcome adversity. I am blessed and honored to know that I did, in small but significant ways, perhaps contribute to the development and shaping of powerful people who took the torch and ran, setting the entire campus on fire.  And I am ever obliged to the people who first believed in me and found ways to draw out the assets I had to offer to the Loyola community in the first place. But more than anything, I am inspired and strengthened in my belief that leadership is as I’d defined it above, because I see the new, beautiful transformations that have happened & continue to happen around campus.

I tip my hat to those of you who have had the courage, vision, and respect for our beloved LUC to build upon the generations’ worth of foundation that you’ve been grandfathered into. Your labors are the absolute antithesis of futile.

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