Friday, May 5, 2017

A Weekend of Departures

This weekend, Milledgeville and Georgia College say its annual goodbye to its graduates. Black robed figures will fill the auditoria and gyms to the music of Edward Elgar and hear, one hopes, words of inspiration and gratitude. Some—those I’ll call “the lucky ones”—will stay on here in town, working, going to graduate school, or both. Others take what they’ve learned into a whole new walk of life elsewhere.

Graduation is a pretty big event around here; one would expect as much in a town that now boasts three postsecondary schools. Flannery showed as much in “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” where a small Southern college elects to celebrate an aged Confederate “Colonel” at its commencement exercises. The Confederate veterans may have, ahem, Gone with the Wind, but the occasion and grandeur of it all stays.

There is one departure among all the various hundreds, however, that hits a little closer to home. Abbey Lee Orr, our visitor services manager and the smiling face that greets folks both in person and virtually via emails and social media, departs with her husband Paul for Philadelphia in the coming days. She has along the way managed to get along with and indeed soften my stodgy and cantankerous ways—efforts that will, if I have anything to say of it, earn her at least one Nobel Prize. Abbey’s efforts at the farm are wide and varied and invariably meticulously meted out. But there’s far more to her departure.

In amongst all the puppy stories, art projects, and greatly deleterious fast food lunches, I have no mere coworker, no mere person behind the desk in an adjoining office. I have a friend. And one feels happy for friends at times like this—going off to the bright lights and big city to begin a new chapter of life. But I am all too human, and thereby selfishly feel sad at times like this. When I need a sincere word, a new perspective on an old problem, or even a person to hear my latest bad joke, I’ll look over and not find Abbey. Registering her absence will take some time. But do so I shall, and look eagerly to the bright days ahead, as I take on her responsibilities at the farm and she forges a whole new life in parts north.

When this entry posts, Abbey and I will have said our goodbyes after our last shift together at Andalusia, and Georgia College’s newly minted graduates will be readying their robes—departures will be the order of this weekend. Our world of social media and telecommunications won’t bridge the corporeal gap created by this weekend’s departures, but they’re a start, and a reminder that this indeed is a joyful time, and joy is lasting; sadness is ephemeral. Among those walking in graduation are our visitors, volunteers, and students, and I hope that in some small way their time at Andalusia has spurred them on to become the lifelong learners their teachers hope them to be. Come back to see us early and often. To Abbey, I can but promise to try my level best to pay forward to others the joy that working with you has offered me. Thank you.
Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and an Instructor of English at Georgia College. 

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