Who knew that the most chaotic and stressful part of my semester would be the best thing I’ve ever done in my life? That’s not an exaggeration. This program, these students, the mentors I worked beside, made every Tuesday and Thursday an addicting thrill-ride. Sure, there were days when nobody wanted to cool their jets, but there also wasn’t a day I felt was wasted. There were days when my girls would be standing up on the tables, chucking markers at one another. Days when I would say, “Chris is coming!” and they still wouldn’t halt the argument. But at the core of these chaotic moments was collective compassion, which is why every session we would come together at one point or another and talk about our day.

It’s a pretty incredible feeling when the students bring so much energy and passion every day that you have to work your brain overtime just to make sure you’re guiding them in the right direction; that you don’t say the wrong thing. That was a constant scramble. I made it a conscious goal to ensure that my students knew that they will never, ever lose what makes them unique, no matter what they do or what anybody else does to them. The constant positive affirmations were exhausting. Sincerity is exhausting. Honesty is exhausting. But they’re also a necessity. It just so happened that I had a lot of love I needed to give and these girls were willing to take it. I got lucky by matching up with students who wear their hearts on their sleeves, just like I do. I told my mom on the phone after my first week, “I think this is going to be my thing,” and now, at the conclusion of the semester, I can confidently say, “It was definitely my thing.”

While I gave my students as much as I could, it wasn’t nearly as much as they gave me. Seeing them everyday was like being surrounded by bits of liquid flame. My group contained such warmth for each other and for the world. I hope that they see themselves the way that I do.

Sammy Tkac is a graduate student in the MFA Creative Writing program.