As an MSU alum who counts her entire MSU career as among the best days of her life, I am shattered to think what you are processing at the moment. As a girl from Michigan’s smallest city – Omer, Michigan – I always felt safe in East Lansing, particularly on campus. It felt like home. You – we – no longer have that luxury.
As you were sheltered in place, terrified, I watched family and friends both in East Lansing and across the state worry about their MSU students and neighbors on Facebook. During my years at MSU, I had countless classes in Berkey Hall and spent just as much time in the Union. I could visualize myself in your situation all too vividly. My mind went to all of the lockdown drills I’ve experienced as a teacher and the all too real threats students face today. I’ve always asked myself what I’d do if the threat was real. It breaks my heart that you had to find out.
Today, as I prepared to head to my class on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), I saw students online terrified to go to class, questioning their safety. While I understand the feeling, I personally refuse to cave to fear. I can’t live my life in the shadows of what “might” happen. I hope no one lets fear get in the way of their dreams, hopes, aspirations. There is way too much out there to achieve.
Today, we are all Spartans.
Honors College 2004
Eli Broad College of Business (BA, supply chain management)
Ah, Michigan State and all of my Alternative Spring Break (ASB) memories in Mexico. Some of my best ASB memories involve W.M., and one in particular, November Rain by Guns N’ Roses. It takes me back to nothing less than the most romantic evening of my life.
I met him at the airport as we headed to Merida, Mexico for a week of working hard doing volunteer work and playing even harder. I was listening to Here Comes the Sun, ready to relax in the Yucatecan sun in the middle of a busy, crazy spring semester, and here was this guy – our site leader for the week – chatting me up. He flashed me this great smile and asked me what I was listening to at the moment. We bonded over George Harrison.
It didn’t take us long to become friends. By the end of our first day of volunteer work, we were hanging out eating pizza and drinking Mexican beer, getting lost in deep, meaningful conversations. I had lost my grandfather almost exactly a year before – at age 20, the first real loss of someone so close to me – and I was happy to find someone who understood. That was the thing – W.M. and I should have had everything in common.
A year ahead of me, he studied marketing and Spanish to my supply chain management and Spanish. No wonder we had found one another. Later, the only time I actually met up with him on campus in East Lansing – or the United States for that matter, and for lunch no less – he told me all about his semester in Quito, Ecuador. I don’t remember if I had already decided on a semester in Ecuador, but after hearing about W.M.’s experiences there, it was a forgone conclusion.
I’d love to say that this story is a college romance that ended well, but that simply wasn’t the case. Instead, it is a story of friendship spanning years, countries, cultures, and continents that didn’t end so well. It is also a story of unrequited love on my part. I fell. Hard.
The thing is that I was never going to change my plans for anyone, muchless a man who hadn’t shown the least bit interest in anything more than friendship. We left it as friends and that was it. We were both driven with much to do. That is, until Spain.
Fast forward nearly two years, and I was in the middle of my semester abroad in Caceres, Spain. I’d resigned to myself that W.M., unfortunately, wanted to remain friends, nothing more. Then I received the email. The week before Valentine’s Day, I receive an email from him stating that he had landed an internship in Madrid – an easy train ride away – did I want to meet up? Did I!
In the end, we spent a fun weekend in Madrid hanging out. He booked me a hostel near wherever he was living. We spent Saturday hanging out, eventually ending up at the Hard Rock Cafe and a beautiful park nearby. We talked for hours. Too good to be true, right? Right. When he walked me back to the hostel and didn’t even so much as kiss me goodnight, I wept.
In 2004, I returned to Mexico and ASB as a site leader myself. Now a senior, I juggled interviewing for full-time positions in Texas with classwork along with all of my extracurricular responsibilities, including ASB. As a result, I had to fly into Mexico City on my own and take a bus to Puebla to meet up with the rest of the group. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but W.M. got ahold of me once again. Would I like to meet up for dinner in Puebla one evening? He happened to be working in Mexico City at the time.
Beyond confused, I, of course, said yes. I had no idea what to expect. Why would this man take a bus at least two hours each way just to spend the evening with me? He knew no one else in the group and the plan was just for the two of us to meet up. We were friends, but seriously, what else was going on here?
I met him in the zocalo, or town square, and we quickly found an outdoor table at a local restaurant. In my mind, the only thing better than Mexican food is authentic Mexican food. The cuisine in Puebla tops them all. Pollo en salsa mole anyone?
After watching the sunset over an incredible authentic Mexican dinner, a little red wine, and the ever present great conversation, W.M. and I somehow found our way into the Mexican equivalent of a dive bar. Now, I am not much of a drinker, but I love the atmosphere in dive bars from time to time. This one happened to be perfect.
I never really did see any sign advertising the place, but I could not have had more fun. W.M. and I ended up holding court with a group of Mexican young men roughly our age. We, two gringos who spoke Spanish who happened to end up in this cool unadvertised bar, stood out. In fact, they thought we were married. So, in this ambiance, we all start singing along to November Rain – very poorly. It is still among the most romantic nights of my life – and he never even so much as kissed me. Yet, there was at least enough chemistry between us for people to think we were married.
That was the last time I ever saw W.M. In 2008, I looked him up on Facebook, and unfortunately, it ended up in a political argument that ended our friendship. I still have no idea how he could have attended the same business school as me, and yet not understand the impact government can have on business, good or bad – small business in particular. Time had not treated him well. In fact, Diego Rivera comes to mind. I recently watched Frida and it all came flooding back, much to my amusement. The passion between Frida and Diego gets me every time.
Over the years, I’ve tried and tried to capture our friendship in writing, and I’ve never been able to do it well. I once even brought an effort for critique, and the reaction of the men in my writing group still cracks me up. Every last man in our group believed him to be gay. All I have to say is this: If he is indeed gay, he didn’t know it himself at the time. The last I knew, he had a Mexican girlfriend and lived in California.
I can’t help but think of him every time I watch Casablanca, particularly the line “We’ll always have Paris.” Indeed. We’ll always have Merida, Madrid, and Puebla.
Ever since I left MSU’s beautiful campus a few days after my graduation on April 30th, 2004, I’ve longed to give back to my fellow Spartans. My years at Michigan State were among the best of my life, and that is due to the wonderful opportunities I had as an undergrad. Not only did I heavily participate in study abroad and alternative spring break programs, I later worked as a peer advisor in the Office of Study Abroad, now Office of Education Abroad.
Through the umbrella Multicultural Business Programs (MBP) organization, I became an active member of Multicultural Business Students (MBS), eventually serving as publicity chair on the executive board, and the Women in Business Association. In fact, my connections to MBP goes back even further to the summer after my junior year of high school. That summer, I attended the Broad Business Student Camp (BBSC) (created and run by MBP), and I fell in love. I fell in love with Michigan State’s campus and what I envisioned my college life could be.
BBSC wasn’t the only factor in my decision to attend MSU, but it left a powerful impression. A few years later, I served as a camp counselor for BBSC thanks to arrangements made with my employer at the time, IBM. When I arrived on campus in August 1999, eagerly pushing my parents’ out the door, I already had a home on one of the largest college campuses in the United States: MBP. This is just a snippet of some of the opportunities I took advantage of while at MSU. It is now time to give back.
Even though I wanted to give back, I am not in a position to give monetarily at the moment, nor do I think that would be the best way to do so. Fortunately, I happened to stumble across a couple of great opportunities.
In fall 2017, as an alum of the Eli Broad College of Business, I received an email outlining the Alumni Wisdom Project. In short, the project, a component of a communications course on campus, pairs current MSU business students with Broad alumni. It is meant to be a one-time face-to-face or Skype informational interview focusing on career and experiences at MSU. Students then complete the assignment for class and share what they have written with alumni. I loved my first experience, so I signed up for another. It is exactly the type of experience I was looking for that would allow me to somehow give back to current MSU students.
Spartans Helping Spartans
I only learned of Spartans Helping Spartans a few months ago when I responded to David Isbell’s LinkedIn comment asking if there were MSU alums who were interested in reconnecting with the university. Dave Isbell works in alumni relations at MSU. I met him online several years ago when I first moved back to Michigan.
After my initial interest in reconnecting with MSU, Dave and I spoke on the phone. He described the idea behind his website Spartans Helping Spartans – alumni sharing their experiences with current MSU students in an informal podcast format. I was hooked. In our conversation, he told me that he remembered a little about my background, and I filled him in on what I am currently doing. Next thing I know, he interviewed me for the podcast and my first podcast was born. Check it out below.
There is much more to come. I am currently writing a series of blog posts highlighting study abroad for Spartans Helping Spartans. I will share them once they are on the website. In addition, I have had such positive feedback from this podcast, I am toying with the idea of creating a podcast myself. Stay tuned. All because I said yes.
Beal Botanical Garden – Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan