Dear Dakar Academy, Do You Remember When...?

In this second to last post that I'll be writing for my "Dear (Fill In The Blank)" series, I want to take a moment to walk down memory lane holding the hand of my high school campus for a little while and cherish the memories we made together (both in-person and remotely from 3,687 miles away).

It seems crazy to me that at this time last year I was still waking up at 5:45 AM every morning, making myself a cup of Nescafe, and having Muesli au chocolat for breakfast before rushing out the door to get to campus.

Just. Last. Year.

And yet, here I am in my dorm room at Gordon College and my heart is still racing to the beat of a djembe as if it was just yesterday that I walked the walls of the campus I called "home", shaking hands with national workers and students that I considered "family" while my eyes drank in the colors my heart knew to be familiar.

I've often heard the expression that "a picture is worth a thousand words" but I personally believe that pictures just serve as an adornment for those thousand words already in existence on the page. That being said, here are a few of my favorite pictures from my campus and me.


Dear Dakar Academy,

How are you? How is life treating you these days? Do you think of me as often as I think of you? I hope you do.

Do you remember when we celebrated Senegal's Independence Day as a class during our 8th-grade year? I hope you do. We had so much fun walking around campus, sporting the colors of the flag that many of our hearts still stand behind.

We were so little then, and yet so mature for our age. We knew then what it takes most an entire lifetime to figure out.

Do you remember how hard and yet rewarding AP Biology was during junior year? I hope you do. Ms. Baggz sure knew how to light a fire in our hearts. Some of the best decisions I ever made with you, we made together in that classroom - D27.

We loved deep and laughed hard in that class. We pursued Jesus above anything else. We discussed some of the most controversial topics in the realm of science, and yet by the grace of God that drew us closer rather than serving as a divisive factor.

If there was ever such a thing as a physical embodiment of one's inner sanctum, it was you, D27.

Do you remember how much of a hassle it was to pull off Junior-Senior Banquet for the senior class at the end of our junior year while we were still trying to apply to colleges and study for exams and the SATs? I hope you do. Even though it was probably the hardest event to plan, we all had so much fun with each other and that made it all worth it.

I wore makeup for the first and last time ever for that night. I look back now and I'm partially grateful I did, but that's still a work in progress. ;)

Do you remember the last first day of school picture that I took at the start of my senior year? I hope you do. That was probably one of the hardest best days of my life.

It was the hardest day because we knew it resembled the beginning of the end of one of my last chapters with you, but it was also the best because we always made our reunions a big deal and I loved that about us.

Do you remember the beautiful sunsets we'd catch together before youth group on humid Thursday nights? I hope you do. I mean, after all, it was you who introduced me to my love for God's painted evening skies.

Do you remember Harvest Fest and how much fun that was every year? I hope you do. We had so much fun planning that event for underclassmen and their families.

Senior year's Harvest Fest was special because we were reunited with a classmate who had relocated to another country but chose to come back to see us for his senior trip. It made our hearts swell with pride as we got to recreate some pictures as a WHOLE class again.

Do you remember the silent auctions I painted pieces for? Or how a piece wasn't complete unless I had a hug from my Auntie Jill and a cup of frothy espresso? I hope you do. You led me to fall back in love with art, jean shorts, and Christmas music in October...

Do you remember how much of a hand you had in growing my love for teaching? I hope you do. Because of you, 13 incredible little superheroes taught me more than I think I ever managed to teach them.

I loved how my locker became the "class refrigerator" and the talk of the town as the year went on. You were so proud to display the handiwork of 13 of the best things that ever happened to me.

And what about the day I turned 18? Do you remember that? I hope you do. Neither of us was expecting a celebration as Mom was stateside and Dad was working, and yet that day was the best day ever. My 13 little superheroes hid behind my desk in the classroom and totally surprised me with a huge card that made my heart explode.

Even though I never celebrated 18 the "traditional" way, I couldn't have felt more loved or more seen. We spent the whole day making beautiful memories together.

Or what about the impromptu Biology tutoring sessions with your colleague? Do you remember those? I hope you do. We laughed hard and learned a lot from each other then.

Punnett squares were always our favorite, weren't they?

Do you remember Evie's letter to God? I hope you do. It was the sweetest love letter I've ever seen anyone write, and it was a beautiful testament to the goodness of our God.

May you and I always strive to love God more than anything, and may we be willing to share that message wherever it is that He leads us to.

Do you remember the senior girls' retreat we went on? I hope you do. We made some of the best memories then, when we were all fully vulnerable with one another. We bonded so well, and those of us who were hesitant before finally embraced the very essence of that which is "teranga".

Do you remember your last Senegalese Appreciation Week and the really intense wrestling matches between staff and students? I hope you do. That was a fun week. Plus, I came away from it feeling like I'd been caught by the paparazzi.

Do you remember how much fun it was to be challenged to read books outside of "your cup of tea"? I hope you do. I mean, who knew Great Expectations would be such a fun and very prophetic/convicting thing to read at the end of your senior year... I know I didn't.

What about that time I dressed up as Felicity Smoak from The Arrow for Superhero day during Spirit week, do you remember that? I hope you do. There were only a handful of people who made the connection, and it was entertaining to watch the rest of them try!

Do you remember the anxiety followed by extreme excitement that I felt after realizing I made it onto the cast list for Bye, Bye Birdie? The connection that we as cast members felt? I hope you do. The practice meets worked on my attitude of teachability, something I'm continually grateful for.

(See the role of "Deborah's Mom" for my name.)

Or what about the ACCEPTANCE BOARD? Do you remember that? I sure hope you do! It was you who first led me to be hopeful about my future.

Do you remember our virtual performance of "Oh, Won't You Sit Down?" with the chamber choir? I hope you do. It was the most bittersweet performance we ever did, and in every sense of the word too.

And just like the picture I took for choir, I took many others in my senior hoodie. I often look back and realize how closely I associate my hoodie with all 4 class meetings it took to land on a color and choose our logos.

Most classes might think 4 class meetings is a bit obnoxious, but that was life for us. We loved one another deeply, and some of our best memories were made during those lunch meetings.

Or what about all the virtual lifeskills projects, do you remember those? I hope you do. The 3D art project taught me the power of scotch tape, and the cooking "final exam" just grew my love for cooking all things from scratch.

(As you see above, Scotch really does work miracles!)

The three course meal which I chose to prepare for my cooking "final exam" was a fun one. I made a garden salad as an appetizer, homemade meatballs and spaghetti with garlic bread as the entree, and 3-ingredient rich chocolate mousse for dessert.

Do you remember how I waited 9 months to open the email with my diploma in it? I hope you do. I was so hurt, and so scared. That email sat as unread for NINE MONTHS because I was afraid that if I opened it - the chapter of my life that I saw as the best - would come crashing down on me like a guillotine blade.

Little did I know that God was preparing another "best" chapter for me. The memories I've made since you... I wouldn't trade a thing for them. I've discovered it really is possible to be partial to two countries at the same time. It's what makes me, well, ME.

Do you remember how excited these new running shoes made me? I hope you do.

They carried me through many of my last days with you, as I would frequently run through Franklin's cemetery to blow off the steam and pressure of being a senior in high school except with a twist - you were then 3,687 miles away from me and remote learning brought a whole new set of challenges that I wasn't prepared for.

Do you remember the joy and exuberance we shared over my finally making my college decision? I hope you do. That decision marked the start of a goodbye I'm still hesitant to say completely.

Dear Dakar Academy,

You and I both know that I never had a real "graduation" in the traditional sense of the word. Even though I had two groups of people whom I love very much throw parties for me (one of them I helped plan, and one totally caught me by surprise), I never got to walk across the stage to "Pomp & Circumstance" played by my choir director as planned. I never received a physical diploma to testify to that fact that I survived and thrived with you. I never put the sash around Daddy's neck, or handed the rose off to Momma. I never threw my cap in the air to "We're All In This Together" or something along those lines like I'd always envisioned doing with my classmates.

I never got to do any of those things.

In light of that, my "Graduation Photo Album" will never look like anyone else's. There will be blank pages where group photos would be. There will be empty sleeves where there would normally be autographed notes and graduation invitations.

But the differences my album has are so attractive to me. I mean, Dakar Academy, would you really make me a rainbow cake? I think not!

There are things that God has written into my album that I wouldn't trade for the world.

Dear Dakar Academy,

I may have physically left your premises.

I may no longer walk the halls of your campus as the shouts of my 13 little superheroes bounce off your white walls.

I may no longer be the one leading my 13 little superheroes across your bluetop on sunny afternoons pretending to be all sorts of animals with them.

I may no longer grace your auditorium on Friday afternoons for incredible times of worship and digging into the Word of God during Chapel.

I may no longer lift the metal door on the Cantina sales window for the 157th time, or struggle to make change at the cashier's box.

I may no longer own locker #17 and decorate it like the class refrigerator that it always was destined to be.

I may never bellow out the lyrics of well known hymns around your bonfire pit on a warm evening during Youth Group.

I may no longer be a part of the mural team on outreach.

I may never do these things again, but know this:

Dakar Academy, I will ALWAYS have Lady Lion pride coursing through my veins and I will always fondly remember the times you and I held hands so tight I thought I was flying.

DA - thank you for loving me so well. Thank you for picking me up and brushing me off when I thought I'd fallen so far from grace to be forgiven.

I will always be a Lion, I will always love us, and maybe one day you'll be the one walking through my halls.

Always and Forever Your Student,

Grace Louise Columbine.