The message of the ribbon

Cottey College ribbons

IMG_2694I never meant to go to a women’s college. In fact, I really only visited the campus because a family friend couldn’t stop talking about it.

There were small class sizes and amazing access to technology and science equipment even for first-year students, she said. Not to mention the leadership opportunities, the new art building and how accessible the professors are.

She was right about all of it, and so I found myself in Nevada, Mo., with more than 300 other women studying, growing, eating shakes and becoming more like sisters than friends.

At the time, Cottey College was a two-year school and first-year students were called freshmen and second-year students were seniors. We lived in suites, so we shared a living room, kitchenette, bathroom and most of our lives with nine other women — a mix of freshmen and seniors. When I was homesick that first year, it was my seniors who comforted me and told me that it gets easier. It was one of my seniors who edited my first college essay, and a senior who hugged me when I had my first fight with my roommate.

So, you can imagine the tears at graduation and all the promises to keep in touch, even as we packed to go to places like Alabama, Wyoming and Croatia. But in true Cottey fashion, our seniors had a plan, a tradition for later that helped us stay close at heart.

With their freshmen gathered, my seniors talked of friendship and of its value and worth. And then? Our seniors gave us ribbons. Some chose symbolic colors, others a plaid or pattern they were known to wear. When they handed them to us, they told us to pin them inside our jackets because the ribbons weren’t meant for others to see. They were meant to be a reminder for us that we are never alone. We share this walk together.

I’ve long since removed the ribbons from my jacket, but I have them in a glass jewelry box that has traveled with me to every apartment and house I’ve lived in since. And some years around Valentine’s Day — when it seems the perfect time to honor friends — I tuck ribbons in the mail, in coat pockets and into the hands of loved ones because my seniors were right.

We are not alone and we are loved.

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