We’ve reached the “graduation season” of the program year. As my co-workers in the national office shared stories of attending Presentations of Learning, and our Operation: Congratulations effort has invited me to be reflective on my own graduation from Public Allies 13 years ago. I rustled up a few photos from my shoebox, and tried to piece together memories like Guy Pearce from Memento.
I don’t remember much from that day. I vaguely remember doing Team Service Presentations in the morning with my teammates, and then reconvening at the Loyola University Chicago Campus for our graduation event that night. Looking at that photo, my first thought was “Wow, did we underdress for a formal presentation.” I recalled being exhausted — our team was tremendou
sly gifted in the visioning muscle, but we were short on implementors. The spring was a furious rush of extra hours outside of my nonprofit placement in delivering our service project with the BUILD housing development on the west side.
The more I sit with this photo, more memories flood. I’ll save that for another post, but I am sure that this photo perfectly captured how we related to each other. Speaking for myself, it seems appropriate that I’m holding some sort of paper, since I was the meeting agenda dude. It’s also appropriate that I have a smug look on my face, because regrettably I’m sure that’s how I came off most of that year to my teammates.
Back to graduation, I remember that there was a bit of downtime waiting backstage. I remember having short conversations with my fellow Allies, which started out with small talk, but then turned into acknowledgements, appreciations and in some cases apologies. Perhaps it was an intentional “community building” exercise by the staff, but by the time we were ready to go on stage, I felt that we were ready to move on.
I don’t remember much of the ceremony or the after party at Credell’s apartment. (Not because I was drunk, I was a teetotaler at the time.) But what I do remember the most was the following Friday, when I didn’t have to return to training. Instead, I went back to my nonprofit placement, which hired me full-time after my graduation term. I’m sure at the time, I felt a little relief — I had spent the previous 40 Fridays with a rambunctious co-hort of idealistic peers, so I’m sure I appreciated the quiet. As the weeks went on, I felt a void — I had missed trading stories and gossip with my Allies, taking the long train ride to the west side to do Team Service Project work.
Yesterday, I participated in the first meeting of a local self-organized nonprofit networking group. We’re all in the same stage of our careers, and as we went around in the circle and introduced ourselves, it kept coming up on how difficult it’s been to build relationships across organizations and to avoid the “silo-ing” of our work. The reason we were all meeting was because we wanted to have a space where we could learn together, challenge each others thinking, and imagine possibilities for improving the public sector in the Twin Cities.
Even though I had never been with these people before, it felt like I was back “home” in the Public Allies office. For those of you graduating from Allies, I hope you keep finding more and more allies to sustain you and your work.