• Shelly Elliott

Happy Birthday America! Thankful for Freedom To Pursue Friendships

Happy Independence Day! To those who are celebrating the 4th of July with a picnic, dip in the pool, walk in the park, party with family and friends, or shopping to take advantage of sales, take a minute today to remember all of those who fought and continue to fight for our freedom. Say a prayer for the men and women of our Armed Forces, their families and loved ones, and those who have given their lives for this country and our freedoms.

This year, I’ve been reflecting on two key things that I appreciate now more than ever on this Fourth of July. First, this is the first time in nine years I have spent the holiday in my hometown. The last few have been spent all across the country: Notre Dame, Raleigh, Milwaukee, Naples, San Antonio, and my last few in Houston. This year, being home in Bradford, a “city” of 8,000 people tucked in the Allegheny National Forest, it was back to small town America. Scott, Pug, Maggie, and I took the dogs to State Park and spent the afternoon walking the trails that wind through the lush greenery of the Allegheny Mountains, wading in the water with the dogs, kayaking on the small man-made lake, and soaking up the sunshine and Mother Nature’s stunning beauty that I definitely took for granted as a kid. It’s funny how you don’t miss some of the most basic things in life until you’re no longer around it. Although Scott and I did love our time in Houston, we both kept commenting how nice it was to be outside in the prime of summer without sweating profusely or sticking to a chair. Instead of skyscrapers and the concrete jungle, it was soul-refreshing to be in the hills, with family and friends around a bonfire.

The second thing that’s been going through my mind is how fortunate I am to live in a country where I can pursue my career of choice and also pursue friendships of choice. Last weekend, I was honored to stand by my best friend Nneka’s side as she married her love of ten years, T. I’d like to share a little snippet from my Matron of Honor speech because it sums up why I consider myself incredibly lucky to have a friendship like this.

God didn’t bless me with a biological sister, but 9 years ago, he brought me the closest thing in my best friend Nneka.

Nneka and I met during freshman orientation at Notre Dame. We were both living in the same section of Pasquerilla East hall, home of the Pyros. It was mass chaos the day of move-in trying to lug suitcases, boxes of toiletries, furniture, and everything you need to survive temperatures ranging from -30F to 95F over the course of the year. I gave her a smile and said hello as we passed each other multiple times in the hallway.

Later that night, they had all fifty or so of us freshman girls in the big social lounge. They asked every person to introduce themselves by saying an adjective to describe them followed by their first name. I only remember what one person said that night, and it wasn’t me. Nigerian Nneka. She said those words with such pride and dignity, and went on to say how both of her parents were born in Nigeria, came to the United States, and still celebrated the Nigerian culture with Nneka and her siblings. It was in that moment that I knew there was something special about her.

Nneka and I grew to be incredibly close that freshman year, bonding over our love of family and sports, endless marathons of Law and Order SVU and Criminal Minds, and our commitment to our studies. We enjoyed being together so much that we became roommates our sophomore year. It was Nneka and me, squeezed into a 13 foot by 9 foot dorm room. We got close, real close, sleeping next to each other 6 feet in the air in our metal loft beds held together by duct tape, figuring if one of us goes down, we’re both going down together.

Our friendship continued to grow and really strengthened as we finished college, moved to new cities to start careers, went through long-distance relationships, celebrated engagements, balanced work while completing an MBA and planning a wedding, changed jobs, and now marriage. Out of all my friendships, this is the one I that I treasure most. Nneka and I have never let our friendship be defined in black and white terms or externalities. We were drawn to each other through our similarities in heart, mind, and spirit. We respect each other’s differences, embrace our heritage and cultures, share in our experiences, love one another for what’s inside. In today’s world, a relationship like this is rare, and I thank God for giving me this friendship and sisterhood to experience. I couldn’t be more proud to consider Nneka my best friend, the sister I never had growing up but that I’ll always have going forward. I think about the experiences, memories, and true joy that would be missing from my life had we never become friends. What a wonderful world it would be if more people would open their hearts and minds to accepting those who are different from themselves.

Is there anyone in your life that you have this kind of friendship with? If not, why? Do you seek out people who have different viewpoints, experiences, cultures, backgrounds, appearances, interests, careers, and religions than you? Are you willing to put yourself out there and introduce yourself to someone? You really have nothing to lose besides a few minutes of your time and the potential gains are limitless. I gained a best friend, a confidant, an advisor, and a sister. It's more than just networking. We live in a country where we have the freedom to connect with other people. Take advantage of it, and protect it.

#friendships #personaldevelopment

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