‘Building Community’

By Grace Franzese (’20)

I grew up with a very big, very close family, and when I was five moved into a very small town. What this means is that when I was eighteen, I could not remember a time where most everyone around me didn’t know my name. Never in my life had I been forced or even had the opportunity to make my own community.

This is something I decided was quite frankly, ridiculous. That’s how I ended up at Wake, a school that no one I knew or even knew of had ever attended. Here, for the first time in my life, I had no support, no help, no one who knew me enough to care about me or hug me or give me advice. For the first time, I was totally alone.

But not for long! A comedy troupe was the loudest group at the activities fair, and two overwhelming auditions later I was forcefully adopted into the Lilting Banshees—the craziest, most wonderful family I could imagine. I took a lab, and was terrible at it, but so was almost everyone else, and together we panicked and laughed at our 75% errors. I knocked on the door of a hallmate who always made me laugh in Collins lounge, and eventually have a best friend. I spend days with nothing to do and no one to talk to and feel like the biggest loser on this campus, but they grow fewer and far between. There are plenty of communities here at Wake Forest. I figure them out. I find my way into some. And I become part of them.

But that’s changing now, isn’t it? Isn’t that the most terrifying part about graduating? Early in this year, as we seniors do, I was talking about what would happen to me, to all of us, when we did. How the people you see every day can turn into people you never talk to, how someone who is so important to you can turn into someone who was, how the communities which had felt like everything here were quickly approaching the time they would be inevitably changed, or worse—lost. How one of the most intimidating parts of the real world (besides, you know, all of it) was the fact that once again, I would be totally alone out there. And this time there would be no Mother So Dear. This time, it would be real.

I have been terrified to graduate college, because to me this was the last place that communities were created for you. Never again would I be put on a freshman or sorority hall, surrounded through no effort of my own by a group of incredible women. Never again would I go to a bar where I could connect to anyone thereby no more than two degrees of separation. Never again would I be invited to an activities fair! A place where a huge number of fully formed communities are just lined up and waiting, ready to pull me in. Never again would I find my friend groups the way I thought I had here—almost by accident.

That’s how I felt about everyone, but especially Banshees, the people I have always said are my family here. Even after last year, when we had our 25-year reunion, and I had the kind of insane experience of seeing the living proof that this wasn’t true. I got to meet the people who had started it all, people who had just been… us. Students. Students who, in 1993, looked at their friends and decided to write some sketches. Put on a show. Name it after some weird, random Irish band whose CD was in the sound booth. (That is the actual story behind the name, to everyone who has ever asked me.)

I got to meet the people who started the traditions that I would love to share with you all but can’t because they’re top secret. Generations that also wasted hours every week writing jokes that were sometimes amazing, but were mostly truly terrible. People that are now fully-grown adults with lives and kids and mortgages, but clearly loved Banshees as much as I did that they would spend their weekend coming back to see where it went 20 years later.

When I got to the activities fair, bright-eyed and fresh-faced four years ago, Banshees wasn’t “full-formed,” “lined up and waiting for me” by chance.

It was because of them.

Banshees is more like my family than I realized. I was lucky to be born into a close family, to come into a close troupe. I was lucky that people before me had put in the work to make them that way. But it hasn’t been luck that that’s the way they have stayed. My families, related and not, have chosen to be an active part of my life, to make me a priority. And I have done the same for them.

As overused and simple a word it is, these places are my communities, and communities are something I was wrong about. They’re not accidents. They never “just happen”. They are never maintained without effort. Even if you don’t see it happening. Even if, like me, you’re stupid enough to take it for granted.

So I know I am lucky to be at this school, a place where there are so many platforms to make meaningful connections. But those platforms wouldn’t have been worth anything if we weren’t repeatedly, constantly building something on them. I am incredibly grateful to Wake for giving Banshees the support and the space to exist at all. But really it wasn’t Wake that ended up giving me Banshees—it was the banshees. And I can say that for every single person and thing that has ever mattered to me here.

It was Wake, that put me on my best friend’s hall. But it was me who knocked on her door. It was her who opened it. It was Wake that offered me a class, and made me learn Organic Chemistry. But it was me who spent an extra half hour on a topic I already understood the night before an exam, going over it again and again until the classmate I was studying with understood it too. Wake gave me Reynolda trail but didn’t make anybody walk it with me. Is responsible for the Pod but not the person who always buys candy there to bring to me in the library.

I think of all those people, and how it will kill me not to be able to text them any day of the week next year to meet me in the pit. But I know I’ll still always be able to text them. I think of the friends I have been lucky enough to grow up with since freshman year, and the faith I have that their journeys will continue to be incredible even if I am no longer going to be a very important part of them. I think of the upperclassmen I knew when I was a freshman, and all they did for me just by loving me. I think of all the underclassmen I call my ‘kids’ without thinking about it, and try to be more intentional in doing the same for them. To give them a place as wonderful as the one I got. One so wonderful that in a few years, they’ll want to pass it on and do the same.

So so what? So what that the real world doesn’t have an activities fair. So what that my friends will no longer be “handed” to me. Friendships form because I chose to love people, and they chose to love me back, and we put in the work to make sure the other person remembered it. We made these people, and this place important to us. So so what if we have to go out and start fresh. We did it here. We’ll do it again. And in the unlikely, tragic case that I never speak to a single Wake Forest alum again, that won’t change the fact that these communities mean something to me, and to them. That will not change the fact that this place taught me I could build them.