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Graduating comes with a lot of feelings and questions. Many people have asked what I’m doing after college and if I’m going to miss Ann Arbor, but recently I was asked, “So how do you feel about carving a path that’s very separate from Detroit?”
I didn’t quite have an answer. For me, it’s very bittersweet to leave the Detroit communities I’ve become a part of during my time here. Leaving conjures feeling of abandonment, feelings of fear, but also feelings of hope that others can now rise to the occasion and continue to foster the relationships I’ve developed, so that in the future the University of Michigan will further strengthen its ties to Detroit.
As I had been working with our committee to plan our second annual Detroit Week, it very much felt like a swan song. That was until I sat at the Semester in Detroit’s Spring 2016 cohort’s community dinner last Saturday. Leah, from the Fall 2016 cohort, said something that stuck with me. She spoke to the ways in which you’ll carry your Semester in Detroit experience with you in some fashion.
Reflecting on those words, I began thumbing through the journal I kept throughout my Semester in Detroit experience. The pages were filled with meeting notes, doodles, character descriptions, a random grocery list here and there, and my many notes about my times, thoughts, and feelings throughout the semester.
One of my favorite pages was the one which read, “In a room full of strangers, I’ve never felt so connected…” Those words remain so relevant to me as I’ve continued to enter new spaces. Every time I enter a community event in Detroit, I feel instantly drawn in by the people and the sharing of stories and culture. Detroit taught me how to be present in a way I had never understood before. Beyond physical presence, I was taught by the community members I engaged with how to emotionally root myself in the experiences. As I’ve continued social justice work striving toward allyhood, my ability to be “present” has deepened the relationships that I’ve formed.
On another page of my journal I found, “I am a work in progress,” which has become my mantra since doing the Semester in Detroit program. Detroit has taught me so much about myself and the person I strive to be. It was in Detroit that I was most challenged - having to unlearn many of the narratives that mainstream media and my own service work had taught me about the city - and constantly having to navigate my own privilege in these spaces. It often came out as “word vomit”, but the people I encountered always met me with patience and willingness to unpack the deeper understanding and realizations I was having. Not only have I continued to develop in these spaces, but I’ve also learned how to extend myself as a resource to others processing their growth.
The formative experiences I’ve had in Detroit have helped me understand my own authenticity, something that travels with me wherever I go. It has helped me to hone in on the benefits of not always knowing the right answer but committing myself to always learning. I better understand how to be a mentor, an advocate, and ultimately a friend and colleague because of Detroit. I will always remember the many lessons of the mentors I’ve found, my Semester in Detroit Spring 2014 cohort (as well as all of the other cohorts with which I have engaged), and the Semester in Detroit faculty and staff who have tirelessly invested in my growth with new opportunities and challenges.
That being said, as I re-think the question, I think I finally have my answer. Unlike my initial fears of divorcing myself from Detroit, I see it as quite the opposite. Because of everyone who has touched my life in some way, it's impossible to separate myself from Detroit. So as I move on, I carry with me Detroit, the stories of those with whom I have interacted, and my own Detroit story, as I continue my journey after college.