Never could I have imagined on the day of Aug. 21 of 2020 that I would be sitting in my apartment three and a half years later writing one of the most painful goodbyes. I’ve always welcomed change. Even as I shooed my parents out of the parking lot, my dad and I laughing at my mom for crying, calling my sister and best friend for emotional support as I lugged carts of my belongings up four floors because I insisted on “living comfortably,” I had a smile on my face. It wasn’t until nighttime rolled around that I found myself crying into my microwaved soup because I was afraid to go to the dining hall alone.

My entire life, I’ve been told I’m incredibly outgoing and didn’t have a care in the world about what people thought of me. My parents often recall when I didn’t cry on my first day of pre-k, my godmother cackling as she told me I used to say “Hi!” to anybody who looked at me and my sister who loves to make fun of me for strapping my “Tickle Me Elmo” into the plane seat as a placeholder while I used the bathroom (I was five, give it a rest). Throughout high school, I lost sight of that little kid my family loves to tell stories about. Coming from Staten Island, I’ve been surrounded by the same people since birth. Some have become family, and some have faded into memories, becoming anecdotes of my life that I can’t wait to share at a party or with my future kids. In a school of over 4,000 people, it’s so easy to feel lost. I thought I had it down-pat because my sister went to the same school — dear God was I wrong. Four years later, sitting in my kitchen watching my graduation I thought, “Damn, I still don’t have anything figured out.” What I did know was how to be a person in a time of isolation, to reconnect with who I really was without the bother of what people thought of my prom dress (it was fire) or how I felt so unapologetically excited to finally leave high school behind.

My freshman year, I reconnected with that little red-headed girl who talked to everyone and made friends so easily. But again, I fell victim to the nonstop carousel of time. People I treasured freshman year quickly found their place, and I felt lost in a huge, unfamiliar place. Something was different about Binghamton though — it was mine. My parents, sisters and cousins never set foot here. Everyone’s first impression of me was not influenced by whatever family member they met before me. This small thought is what led me to flag down a tall brunette with glasses named Harry at the WILLOW concert. I couldn’t believe students were getting the opportunity to take photos of concerts, and I would be damned if I wasn’t going to be one of them.

To say the least, I didn’t expect to find myself in a newspaper. Walking into this office took a sledgehammer to my perceptions, smashed it, put it back together and then threw it at a wall to shatter it even more. Becoming an intern was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In high school, I was always the girl with a camera. While this holds true years later, I have taken my hobby and turned it into one of the defining moments of my college career. There is so much this organization has taught me, but my main takeaway is that your art can be your life. Too often, I’ve heard, “It’s a great hobby to have!,” but after joining Pipe Dream, those statements turned into sentiments like “When you hear a college student say they’re a photographer, you don’t actually expect them to be amazing.”

It’s always nice when your family believes in you, even better when two dudes who run a photo section accidentally give you the task of taking photos for one of the biggest events of the year because they forgot someone else asked months before. The family I’ve found in Pipe Dream will not just be an anecdote from my college years. It will be one of the main things I call on when I need a moment of inspiration to keep following my passions. When the anticipation of graduating rolls around, looking for jobs and submitting last assignments is overwhelming, I’ve found my peace in UUWB03, crying, laughing, complaining and messing around in an office where I am always accepted, no matter what fear I am conquering that day.

To Michael and Harry — I am incredibly grateful to you two. The way you ran the photo section has set us up for success. Your beliefs that anyone can learn and grow in this space has never left our section. To not only give me the assignments you did when I was new, but to allow me to grow and become the assistant I am today, is an experience that I will never forget. Please keep believing in yourselves the way you did in Pipe Dream.

To Caspar and Jacob — There’s not enough words to thank you with. You two have gone out of your way time and time again for me and this section, and it never goes unnoticed. Caspar, no matter what lab mishap you’re stressed about that day, I never once felt like I didn’t want to hear what you have to say and I truly enjoyed the office try-on hauls from your fashion era. Jacob, you and your drone are truly a force to never be reckoned with. You’re so nice and giving and truly one of the best male presences to have in a workplace (no matter what was said on newbie night!!). I am so proud of all the accomplishments you guys achieved in and out of this organization, and I can’t wait to see what you do beyond college.

Lia and Bella — Y’all know I LOVE to see women in power. You two have run this paper with great ease even with everything thrown at us this semester. You two always hype me and my photos up, are always here to talk and are amazing at what you guys do. I’ve never felt more safe to prosper, make mistakes and learn than in the environment you guys cultivated.

To my PS pals — You know who you are. To thank all of you individually would make me sob harder than I did with the Christmas tree poem. You all have fostered such an environment of humor, motivation and friendship. To say you are all amazing is putting it simply. All of you have your own talents and path in this world. Even if you don’t know what it is yet, I know I’m going to see you all succeed, and I’m excited for the day I can congratulate each and every one of you.

Kai DePalma is a senior majoring in psychology and is Pipe Dream’s assistant photo editor.