Firsts make the greats feel greater
You always remember your first.
It was 2009. The Academic Commons was still the old Student Union. The MCC was a parking lot. I was a naïve freshman still figuring out what I was doing at Cameron and what I was doing with my life as I walked into my first class: General Psychology at 8 a.m.
I was sitting in the back of the classroom, counting wasps in the ceiling lights with my friend Seth when she walked in – Lani Malcolm, my first instructor.
But just as much as you remember your first, you easily remember your last.
It was 2015 – September 3, to be specific. The office was nearly empty. The other student office worker had cleaned the desk for the new occupant to move in the next day. I stood there with two boxes and the only thing left in the office: a London-themed corkboard.
The corkboard was a trademark of Lani’s office – photos and memos splayed about, surrounding the Big Ben screen printed on it. People leaving the Cameron Exchange would see it behind Lani’s desk as they exited the building. It was a symbol of the miles traveled for the sake of making her and her students great global citizen scholars.
And she left it to me.
While the gift was pretty sentimental given the information already stated, there’s still six years’ worth of back story to let you know why I started welling up as I took the corkboard from its perch on the wall.
There were the numerous times she encouraged me to become more involved with the Honors Program with each year that passed. Then there were the numerous Study Abroad tours where she encouraged me to break out of my shell. Let’s not forget the plethora of times she’s helped me through every major and minor existential crisis of emerging adulthood.
She’s like the long-lost older sister who knows how to come in the clutch, what with her years playing and coaching basketball.
Seven years, a bachelor’s degree and a planned out academic career later, Lani has proven to be one of the biggest reasons why I am where I am today. She has been a part of my Cameron family for what seems like forever, which makes her as good as biological family.
But, as of the last week of August, she has left Cameron for bigger, brighter and more awesome things.
She told us Honors kids about it on the group Facebook page about two weeks before the semester started and a few days before making it Facebook official. Of course we were all sad about it. I was working at the time, so I walked over to her office to talk it out with her.
She was sad, too. But I could tell just how psyched she was for an amazing opportunity ahead of her – even if she never said a word explicitly. I was happy for her. How could I not be?
It was a sad time indeed, and the pattern of personal change in 2015 only compounded the feeling. I’ve said it before and will do so again: a lot changes in six years.
It’s just so surreal for firsts and lasts to happen before I leave the better and brighter futures Lani and others have moved onto lately. I’ve talked about it with my counselor in various permutations over the years – albeit not to this extent before.
Now, as I think about these firsts and lasts, I thought of a concept from rapper and poet George Watsky about firsts making the moments of life louder. I’d like to make an addition to that statement, because lasts have the same effect.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that Lani’s departure still makes my eardrums ring.
Lani has been a big part of my life through so many firsts and lasts. To think she was able to give me both a first and a last makes entirely too much sense, even if the thought makes my brain hurt from the volume of my thoughts.
Needless to say, if firsts and lasts make “the greats feel greater and the brokes feel broker” – as Watsky so eloquently said – then Lani must be the great amplifier of my college career.
One thought is louder than the others, though: change isn’t always bad. It’s something my counselor has been telling me forever, and she’d be proud to see me say it in print. But it’s true. Whether it comes too soon or not soon enough, whether it leaves you reeling or doesn’t affect you at all: change can be a good, almost beautiful, thing if it leads down the right path.
So, yes, Lani left. I miss her dearly because she is nothing short of a glorious human being. It may be a sad day – every departure has been and will continue to be.
But this one, like many others, will be sad for all the right reasons.
As I stood in Lani’s office for the last time, I thought back to the first day in that classroom. Everything else faded to the periphery as I thought about everything that happened between that first day and where I stood that Thursday in September.
Then I thought about Watsky again, summing up my thoughts on everything as succinctly as always.
“There’s nothing like the first time. The first time’s always perfect.”