Once a Duke, Always a Duke — Rheanna Martino

A few weeks back, I found myself sorting through and organizing all of the things
I’ve brought to and from as well as acquired in my last three years at JMU. As
daunting as the task was, it was one I found enjoyable in a sense because it
allowed me to revisit memories that I had forgotten as well as reminisce those
ones that I’ve loved. From little things I’ve received from friends– birthday
cards, little notes of well wishes for rough days, congratulatory cards for the
milestones that have come up, to things that will forever remind me of my time
at JMU– my freshman year Mappy (which, I proudly admit, to this day– stays in
my backpack and goes EVERYWHERE with me), my name tag from when I was a 2009 FrOG and my fight song t-shirt given to me at my freshman orientation – I found myself moving along a path of tokens and nostalgia that brought upon me many bittersweet feelings. Of course I was happy—I was looking at things from JMU—things that brought my insurmountable joy and memories and would continue to do so for years to come. I was getting ready to head back to JMU—back to friends that have become family, my favorite professors, back to what I consider one of the greatest places on Earth.

But of course, blended into those feelings of joy, were the ones that stemmed from the fact that in just a few days, upon my arrival back to this wonderful place, I will begin my 4thand final year as a JMU student.  I will begin my last year of football games on the weekends, long nights of studying in Club Carrier, impromptu lunch dates on the Quad, having doors held not because people feel like they have to, but because they want to and my last year of being a Duke. Being an overly sentimental person, I let the negatives get the best of me and I became overwhelmed quickly. I knew that I the best thing to do was get myself something that would help me get through the rest of my work. Of course, being a college student, one of the best ways to fuel my productivity is to fuel it with coffee.

Proudly sporting my Purple Out t-shirt, I dragged myself out of my house and away from memory lane and dropped in to my local coffee shop for my little pick me up. There I stood in the line, patiently awaiting my turn so I could move on with my seemingly normal day. Feeling a tap on my shoulder, I turned expecting to see someone from my hometown looking to say hello while we waited together. However, to my surprise, my attention was being requested by a young couple whom I had never seen before. The first thing the man said to me, with a joyous grin on his face, was “Go Dukes!”  Smiling, I repeated his statement and began asking him how he knew of JMU.  As he and the woman glowed with happiness, he began to inform me that he and the woman – whom I learned was his wife – met during their freshman orientation at JMU before graduating in 1999, and then marrying a few years later. My heart instantly grew 10 sizes as I listened to them talk of their time together that led them to fall in love and return to homecoming in 2000, where he proposed to her on the kissing rock and how it has been history ever since. Heart a glow, I eventually I order my drink and attempt to pay, when the man behind me jumps in and insists that this one be “their treat”. Grateful, I thanked him kindly as he proceeded to tell me: “You’re welcome. But please, we are Dukes. We believe in paying it forward and only wish we could go back, even just for a few days. Please, allow us to pass this one on.”  Completely shocked and
taken back, I accepted this kind act and simply moved aside. As I received my
drink, with tears almost forming in my eyes, I said my goodbyes and final thank
you’s to my fellow Dukes and was soon on my way.

Back in my car, ready to head back to my mountain of memories and belongings, I found myself frozen for a moment. The man’s words “We are Dukes”, streamed repeatedly in my mind, and it was only in that moment that it clicked:

I am going back to finish my time at JMU, but that does not mean that I am done being a Duke.

In that moment, it was as if every part of the world aligned perfectly. These kind
people—ones whom I shamefully admit I never even exchanged names with—just gave me every bit of assurance I needed to move forward and begin the end of my journey through college. Yes, it is true that in a few days I will begin my
last year at JMU. It’s true that there will be no more meal plans, dining
dollars, or afternoons on the Quad. Yes, my friends and I will move on to live
distances apart, erasing the ability to hang out at any given moment. And yes,
much as I try to avoid the inevitable, I will being to take more and more steps
to adulthood, therefore releasing the younger years of my life that I’ve
enjoyed hanging on to so for long. But the one thing that will not be changing,
the one thing that will never be taken from me no matter how far away I move or
how old I grow, is the fact that I am a Duke.  I am now and forever will be a JMU Duke.  The learning, giving, growing and sharing that you learn during your time as a JMU student don’t stop just because your undergraduate career does—they simply move on with you, waiting to be applied to the newest verse of your life. With a rejuvenated smile on my face, and a glow in my heart, I headed home to move myself further along memory lane.

It’s surreal to think that the last three years have gone so fast. If you ask my parents, they still see me as the little girl sprinting off down the hallway in her
dress to her first day of kindergarten, anxious to take on the world. While I
can’t see exactly that far back, I can however see myself as the nervous
freshman moving into Wampler Hall, starting a new journey 5 hours from home,
ready to write a new chapter of her life. And now, as I sit here and type this,
belongings sorted, packed and ready to head back to the last layer of my JMU
experience, I see myself as the young adult who is ready to write a perfect
ending to this chapter of her life before joyously beginning another one. I
don’t know where this year will lead me, or what adventures are in store. It
will be sad, for sure, knowing that each experience of something will be my
last– my last Homecoming weekend as a student, my last punch in DHall, my last time walking through campus on a beautiful day just to faces smiling back at
me.  However, dealing with these lasts will be made less painful knowing that I have my friends beside me, the entire class of 2012 experiencing these things with me and a long line of Dukes that will be there to help me along every step of the way.

So here’s to us, JMU class of 2012. We’ve got a short time
left; let’s make it the best one of our lives.

In the spirit of Madison and all things JMU. Keep smiling
and Go Dukes!!

– @RheannaMartino, @JMU_2012 President

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