I’ve been holding my breath, holding myself back from writing this letter because I know that it can never encompass all I want to say about what being in and of you has meant. And/but I am taking the advice that a CUNY mentor once gave me when I was floundering during the dissertation process, to start writing before you are ready, because I know this letter is one that I’ll never be fully ready to write.
In many ways, it was growing up in and with you that helped me find community, direction, purpose, a voice, myself. So, there is much I want and need to say:
The first is thank you. Thank you for giving me opportunities that I know I haven’t always appreciated. Thank you for the people you brought into my life–friends, teachers, mentors, allies, leaders, students, strangers–people who have been variously kind, strong, loving, hurtful, generous, difficult, inspirational. Thank you for the way you forced me to get to know this city, to move out of the sheltered corner of Little Neck, Queens where I grew up to traverse its sprawling landscape, to walk across bridges, to find other sites of belonging. You taught me how to feel at home in this city. Thank you for the skills you helped me develop while I was learning and working as a CUNY student and teacher: the ability to read, write, and grade papers standing on public buses and trains, a dexterity honed during long commutes and all-too-frequent MTA delays; a knack for finding windows in stuffy, claustrophobic buildings, to look for spaces to let light in when the weight of the work feels especially heavy; a know-how for tracking down resources, opportunities, and pockets of funding, which you haven’t always made easy to find, but it’s because of that that I learned to ask questions and to make demands, to realize the sound and worth of my own voice; an eye for recognizing people who are similarly lost and out of place, who are also driven by questions, ideas, and a refusal to accept things as they are; an intuition for making community out of commuter campuses, to find people and causes worth showing up and fighting for. This list could go on and on.