Thursday, June 27, 2013


Two weeks ago the class of 2013 transformed from students to alumni. There was joy and celebration in the accomplishment that was reached. Great sadness was also present as students and staff will soon (if they haven't already) scatter all across the globe. For me, it was my fifth and final graduation ceremony here at BFA, which left me with a plethora of emotions.

One of the thoughts that was running through my mind and heart throughout the graduation ceremony was, "I am so proud of these students, and so proud of who they have become and how they have grown." Rubbing shoulders with these students and walking through life with them has been such a blessing. I am proud of the growth I have seen in them. They have matured; physically, mentally, spiritually, socially. They are continuing to grow, and it is a beautiful thing. I have worked a lot with this particular group of students in many different areas of life. As I watched the students walk across the stage I was blessed to be able to know them all personally, and to be proud of who they have become.

When I first stepped into the role of an RA five years ago, the two guys pictured above were in 8th grade and living on my hall. I have known them for the past five years and have absolutely loved getting to know them and spend so much time with them. Without a doubt, one of the highlights of this year for me, was being able to close this chapter with them. I am proud of them, and the work they have put forth in order to graduate. These two students are extremely special to me. Living with them for three years was such an incredible thing. 
Here you can see the same two guys five years ago. 
Hanging out in my room five years ago.

Another phrase I kept pondering during the graduation ceremony was, "I am so thankful to be here." Hopefully those who have kept up with my blog have caught on to the running theme that I absolutely love being here. These students are so special to me. I am grateful for the five years I have been here. No place is without challenges and difficulties, yet even with a few negatives here and there, this has been a wonderful place for me. I am grateful for the time I have spent here.

The final phrase I want to touch on that was running through my mind and heart sounds something like, "Man, it is so hard to say goodbye." Truthfully, there is no easy way to pin specific words to the heartache that comes from leaving. I have been processing the weight of sadness for many weeks now and still cannot easily write it out. I wish I could. But it seems impossible to do. So to hopefully help you understand I will share a story from graduation...
Following the ceremony those in attendance move outside to mingle. Hundreds of pictures are taken, hugs of celebration are given, and tears of sadness are shed with each goodbye. At this point in the day I was actually doing okay emotionally, I had kept it together fairly well. Then, I walked around a corner and found a rising senior coming my way. He and I were in the dorm together, and he is one of my favorite students (Okay. Maybe I'm not supposed to have "favorites" but...he definitely is at the top of the list). As he walked toward me, I physically put my hand out and said to him, "No. Not now. I'm not saying goodbye to you right now." He looked at me and simply said, "But Tommy, if not now, when?" Realizing the truth of the statement I pleaded to take a quick picture before tears streamed down my face.

So, we took one final picture, and began our goodbye. I gave him a massive hug as tears uncontrollably fell. I was his RA starting his freshmen year. One year from now he will be in cap and gown graduating. It pains me knowing I will not be around for his senior year. I will miss his laugh, his sense of humor, his awkwardness. He is one of many, many, people I have had to say goodbye to. Each one has a special place in my heart. So many people here have played massive roles in my life. This has been home for five years, and it is sad to be leaving.

The class of 2013 has graduated. They are officially alumni. Graduation was a tremendous day where I was so proud of who these students are, extremely grateful for the time we shared together, and deeply saddened to be parting ways. 

"Grub N Fun" group that came over for dinner on Thursdays. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Good Week.

I wanted to give a few random notes of interest before I start typing today's post:

1. I will be heading out for a short vacation next week and more than likely will not post next Thursday.

2. Even though my time in Germany is ending, I fully intend on continuing to post on Thursdays. So please keep checking on a regular basis. Posting during July may be a bit sporadic, but once August hits I will find a consistent routine which will include a weekly post.

3. As always, please feel free to email any comments/questions you have about anything I post. I always enjoy any feedback and interaction with what I write.

4. Many already know this, but July 1 is the day in which I will be leaving Germany and heading back to the States.

Generally I type posts from home. I like writing in an environment in which I have more control over the noise, activity and busyness around me. If I need to throw on some headphones and listen to music, no questions are asked. Plus, there is something smoothing about the noise my laptop keyboard makes. But today, I am typing in my office. For some reason it seems more fitting and more appropriate to write from here today. 

To be truthful, my heart has been a all over the place recently. In one sense I am fully aware of the heart-wrenching good-byes I will soon have to make. Yes, I realize good-byes are a part of life and I will face them with each closing of a chapter. But, they never get easier. They are never easy to do. This place has been home for the past five years. This is where I feel most at home. This is where I feel most alive. This is where I feel most purposeful.

I know tomorrow is graduation. I know on Sunday, on Monday, on Tuesday, I will have to part ways with some close friends. But my mind hasn't been so tightly focused on the good-byes that I have missed some amazing days.

Over the weekend I had dinner with friends and we sat in silence as we watched a passing thunderstorm. In the midst of the silence, so much was spoken about friendship, community, family.

On Tuesday I joined with three students as we embarked on a grand adventure. One student had always dreamed of running from school to home (roughly 22-24km away). The four of us had a great time running over rivers, up hills, crossing country borders, to reach our destination.

Last night I joined the senior class on a river cruise. At one point I thought to myself, "I should be focusing on taking pictures of this night." But, I found myself engaged in multiple conversations that will last far longer than any picture will.

My heart is a sporadic because in one sense I know what is coming. But at the same time, I am still here. I haven't left yet. The students are still here. It is tough to be sad now, because I am still here. I am still in the moment. But, I know the moment is coming when I will no longer be here, and I know that will be a difficult reality to embrace. Tomorrow the class of 2013 will graduate. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

This is why I love these students, and this place.

Eight days until graduation. Twenty-five days until I fly back to the States. Both of those numbers bring so many thoughts and emotions. I have found the past few weeks to be an intense emotional roller coaster. One day I have peace over leaving, the next day I am overcome with sadness and fear. Excitement comes to mind, only to be kicked aside by regret and heartache. I seem to be waking each morning unaware of what kind of a day it will be. All I can seem to do is take each day as it comes.

In trying to understand the smorgasbord of emotions, I have found myself running and journaling with greater frequency. On a recent run I was reflecting on events from this past Monday and a phrase kept popping into my head with each step, “this is why I love these students and this place.” 

This past soccer season I had three students who took on the role of being a team manager. They did a ginormous amount of work behind the scenes to help me. Small details are not always my strong suit, thankfully these three excelled at details I would often overlook. They tackled rosters, statistics, pre-wrap, equipment, etc. freeing me to stay focused with happenings on the field. They were daily at practice (which far too often meant getting wet in the rain) setting up cones and helping me transition from one drill to the next. They were a huge asset to me. I tried to communicate this to them, but I don’t know if I was able to fully communicate how much I appreciated all they did. I am glad for all the work they did, but even happier that through the season we became friends. I am really thankful that I can now pass them in the hall with a deeper friendship than when the season started. In addition to tasks during the week, they also helped fuel my competitive desire as we had an on going competition on game days. Sadly, I did not win our little competition and as a result had to cook them dinner. So, this past Monday I invited my managers over for dinner along with two of my players. I have an immense amount of respect and admiration for the players I invited, and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them better as the year has progressed.

Everyone started trickling in as I was doing the final preparations for dinner. So we sat around in the kitchen and talked. I loved it. I asked questions about school, summer, life. Not only did they answer my questions, but they in return asked me questions. I love when students take the time to ask me questions. They asked me questions and had the desire to listen to what I was saying. It encouraged me and was something I greatly appreciated. I absolutely love being around this group of students.

As we brought the food to the table to eat, we also brought laughter…a lot of it. We spent close to an hour eating, and were laughing for the majority of the time. On more than one occasion people were complaining about their stomachs hurting from laughing so hard and so much. With the whirlwind of emotions encircling me, it was a blessing to have time to laugh until it hurt. It was refreshing to forget about all that has to happen in the next 25 days, and enjoy the exuberant laughter.
I love these students and I love this place.

After dinner we drove to a nearby bowling alley. Naturally, my geographically challenged brain got us lost. I became a bit stressed, but was relieved by the fact that everyone else was still laughing and felt that getting lost only added to the excitement and adventure we were having. Our getting lost did not hinder their laughing, it only added more reason to laugh. 

Simply put, bowling was epic. The mass amounts of laughter continued as it became more common to get a gutter ball than to knock a pin down. Nobody was that good, and nobody cared. I wasn’t bowling to get the best score of my life, I was there to enjoy the company of some amazing people, while bowling. 

After dropping everyone off, I came home and had to clean up. It was late, I was tired, and there were a lot of dishes. Yet, I found myself excited and full of energy as I cleaned up. After my roommates had disappeared for the night, I worked in the quietness of the kitchen. From time to time I started laughing, replaying jokes that were shared throughout the night. Smiling, thinking about how the students could notice I was getting stressed while lost, but recognizing this their laughter pulled me out of my state of frustration. 

It was a great night. It served as yet another memory that highlights how much I love these students, and how much I love this place.