You, Wisconsin, with your lime green leaf buds, with your sun heating my hair and your wind chapping my cheeks, with your crowds of Badger red that break up the dull palette of wintery grays, with your lakes that glitter and freeze, with your rains that never stop and snow that always falls and summers that always bake.
You, Wisconsin, with your ice quakes and thunderstorms, with your beer fests and freak fests, with your hippies and hunters and hipsters, with your bipolar politics and bipolar weather, with your locally cured bacon and organically ground bratwurst and sustainably caught bluegill, with your moody North Woods music and marching polka bands and banjos thundering the Capitol, with your blaze and your black and your cardinal.
You, Wisconsin, that showed me the sweaty delight of bike commuting and of being late due to muskrats and loons and foxes, that planted hawks and eagles and owls on my street and let them hunt at my feet, that turned a blind eye to street-side gardens and illegal firepits, and that let me embrace my inner football fanatic.
You, Wisconsin, that let us make a home and a family, that gently brought us together when we struggled to know if we could be a unit, that hugged my firstborn in community and snowsuits and healing hands, that winked at the miracle of my second-born, that granted us critters and friends and neighbors and comrades.
You, Wisconsin, that gave me cold wintery days to curl up with ideas, that introduced me to mentors that assured me I had important things to say, that showed me the work I needed to do tucked in unexpected places, that let me see the reach I could have, that entrusted me with teachers and students and students teaching, that pushed me to protest, that gave me the space to write and think and imagine, that defended and deposited and hooded and doctored me.
You, Wisconsin, that taught me my soul could belong in one place but my heart could choose another, that teases me now with hopes of return but the reality of that impossibility.
I’m here, Wisconsin, catching glimpses of this life I got to live and wanting to believe that I have come full circle. When I go to my old haunts and drive on my old streets and see other mamas and other students and other reflections, I reach for that circle, my hope of return. But these robes I wear tomorrow, they’re not just a graduation but a commencement, a beginning of life beyond this beloved place. For things have not come full circle but are utterly and completely changed. I am now: a mother, a doctor, a partner, an adult; I live in warmth and sun and Spanish; I seek new careers and paths and places. You’ve given me this, Wisconsin, this person I’ve become. I wish you could know her, and maybe one day you will. But for now, in these robes and in this cold with my family you helped create by my side, I tip my cap to you, great state, my heart, and I hold on tightly to what you’ve given me. Forward.
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While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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