Dear Ashley,

Thank you so much for your update from Myanmar! It’s wonderful to hear that you’ve completed your internship with LIFT, and how rather than getting right back home, you’re taking even more time to work abroad! At this point then, I think it’s only fitting to update you about a few things back on the West Coast!

I’m not sure if you saw online that we just had a fundraiser with The PLUS ME Project?!

The fundraiser was a momentous success! Guests came in from all over Los Angeles and filled the banquet hall with amazing, eclectic energy. What’s more, they came in with a show of strength! That is, they opened up their wallets to support more speaking engagements at more schools throughout the next school year!

These things alone would make the event a special night, but the biggest reason it was such a blast for me was because of all the friends who came out! Our friends, of course!

In particular, it was just mesmerizing to introduce my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Holland, to the friends we made in Pasadena. I must have been a puny little ten year old when I first met Ms. Holland, right out of elementary! But the connection would change my life.

The thing is, middle school was a monstrously overwhelming environment for me when I started: there were so many new faces, new rules, and new expectations to fulfill, at the same time that my family and I were just getting used to my father leaving the picture. As a result, it was difficult for me to trust any adults other than my mom at that time, but Ms. Holland stood out as a champion of the students and their success; she put her heart into her work, and came to class excited about going over earthquake preparedness, plant life, and so much more!

I loved her from the start, as did my mom after they met for parent-teacher night, but the way it goes is that even sixth graders have to part ways with the people they love. And as hard as it was for me to leave Ms. Holland’s class after our school-year together came to an end, I had to move on!

And ah, did I ever.

I wrote a little a bit about it when I featured Ms. Cindy Weiss on J.T. Basically, when the seventh grade started, I became one of the overwhelming little monsters at my school. Facing teachers that were either new to the classroom or new to the neighborhood, I turned my cheek to the school-work they assigned, and instead dedicated myself to becoming the biggest little jerk I could be.

Looking back at it now, it was clearly a cry for attention, but it was also a search for an education that was more compelling than what the classroom could give me at the time. I needed to be challenged, though not necessarily in a way that was confrontational.

After all, no matter how guarded I was with Ms. Holland during our first few weeks together, her approach to the classroom was an unarming one: she was filled with so much joy and laughter that I just couldn’t help but want to join her in the good times by being a student she could be proud of.

Anywho, one day I’ll really write about it, but for now the point is that after the sixth grade I couldn’t find another teacher like Ms. Holland for a long time to come! To be exact, it would be about five years since our paths would intersect again, during which I would go on to find the education I was searching for outside of the classroom after all, though at a price that would cost me far more than I could ever imagine.

By the time I reconnected with Ms. Holland at John Marshall high school in 2007, I’d gone from being a little jerk in the classroom, to some kind of “menace to society”, to an essentially lost child in search of redemption. Rather than making for barriers, however, my complicated years with school after the sixth grade made the act of reconnecting with my favorite teacher in the world all the more of a gift from the skies. And though Ms. Holland didn’t serve as a teacher at Marshall, she did serve as a college counselor with the Gear Up program! I wasn’t a part of Gear Up, but Ms. Holland welcomed me with open arms and her jolly smile all the same.

Throughout the rest of my time at Marshall, during my junior and senior year there I’d visit her office again and again. And each time, I gained more and more from the brilliant resourcefulness and contagious good spirit that she radiated, as if neither of us had ever truly left the sixth grade to begin with; as if, in some way, the warmth and innocence from all those years ago was not only still in each of us just the same, but even stronger than it’d ever been before.

Then, as the days went on and my graduation from Marshall approached, it was Ms. Holland who couldn’t stop heckling me about going to college. Finally, after months of lagging on my promise to her that I’d check out this “weird place called Pasadena City College“, Ms. Holland rolled up her sleeves and drove me out to the campus herself!

Needless to say, the decision would dramatically alter my life. Not long after my graduation from Marshall in 2008, I’d meet you in Pasadena, not to mention Ahmad, and Marco, and so many more of the people I’ve cherished over the last few years. People that have become like family!

And so you can see then, that to introduce Ms. Holland to our friends was to bring two incredible ages into brilliant contact with each other; as marvelous as parent-teacher night when my mother met Ms. Holland and adored her, and as hopeful as the moment I reconnected with Ms. Holland at my high school after all those long, painful years for me since leaving her classroom.

At the same time, bringing together my friends filled me with even more hope that not even all the time and space in the world can stop the making of a grand love story. It also showed me how often time and space are just the first components we need to get the story going!

With this in mind, I feel that in losing Ms. Holland, and finding her again at another chapter of my life, and to later connect Ms. Holland with all that I gained while being “lost” or away, it’s clear how sometimes, no matter how hard it is, we’ve just got to lose the people we love in order to find them and ourselves again later!

I think this is especially important to grasp now, as both you and I, like so many of our friends, each build different roads to trek through. At the end of the day, I’m confident that our roads will intersect, and that our roads are as much for each other as they are for ourselves. But in the meantime, I see how there’s a lot of building to do. And how building takes time, space, and so much more.

For this, I’m grateful to be a part of your journey through Myanmar, however far I might seem from it. Ultimately, I trust that I’ll learn from what you learn, and vice versa! And I can’t wait to hear what you discover about agriculture out there. I seriously think that if you decide to come back to California with that knowledge, you’ll be more than alright! With that, as always, it’s been a pleasure writing to you, and I wish you magnificent light, incredible stories, and all the magical adventure in between!

From underneath palm trees through the breeze of L.A.,

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