"We gather here together as friends, we're side-by-side, to sing our Alma Mater with unity and pride."
The lights beat down on a chilly Friday night in the fall. Ten feet in front of me is a line of jersey-clad football players, watching the game intently as beads of sweat roll down their neck, giving everything they have to the game. Behind me are fans going wild, cheering on not just the athletes but their family.
That's the only way to describe it: a connection. There is no place I'd rather be.
My feet are planted firmly in the ground, but I wonder how much of me will be left here after I leave this place. My hands firmly grasp the poms I hold behind my back, wanting to hold on to something -- anything -- tangible... wanting to hold on to this incredible moment forever.
As the temperature drops when the sun goes down, my team steps away for a moment to put on our warmup jackets. But as I slip on the gold and blue illuminated, "Varsity" printed, and "Spirit" branded symbol of who we are, I'm not just putting on a typical dance team warmup jacket. I'm putting on a layer of tradition, a layer of excellence and a layer of connection.
An indescribable energy fills my soul as I zip up the jacket. A thousand pieces of me come together as a whole for just a moment. A thousand pieces of me join together with everyone around me, everyone before me, and everyone to come. A warmth comes across me, and for just a brief second, I've found a tangible object of what I had been wanting to hold on to.
I feel a sense of connection.
"To her we will be faithful and always will be true. Forever loyal to STA, her banner gold and blue."
The jacket is the coveted symbol of a varsity dance team member at my school, and it's been that way for years. Year after year, a high school student slips on that jacket for each performance, probably not realizing that it'd soon be another layer she leaves behind as she graduates high school and moves on with life.
Without realization, those years pass. I wonder where the first person who wore my jacket is now? And I wonder what it'll be like when I slip on the layer of connection for the last time. I wonder what it'll be like when I slip off the layer of tradition for good, leaving a piece of me with whoever will wear the jacket next as I pass on the tradition.
It isn't just a warmup jacket; it's a mechanism of uniting the past with the present.
As I watch the football players play their hearts out, I think about all the players who had done the same in the exact field years before. I think about the thousands of fans who pile into the bleachers year after year. I think about all the dancers who stood in the exact spot I did, wearing the exact same warmup jacket.
"Though years may separate us, our memories live on."
And I think about the day my class will walk down the aisle, caps on our heads and diplomas in our hands, giving up our position underneath the Friday night lights to the next generation of students.
I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to be a member of the dance team at an amazing school, and I feel so privileged to experience what life is like underneath the Friday night lights. Friday night football games are what I look forward to each week, and I can say that they have hands-down been one of the biggest highlights of my high school career -- because for those few hours, I'm a part of one big family (as cliche as it may sound).
In fact, the theme of my school's football team this year is Family Over Everything. And it couldn't be more true. Whether we win or lose, whether we're tired or excited, whether we're thrilled or bummed about whatever else is going on in our life, we come together for these few hours on a Friday night as one big family.
"Her spirit ever present, our strength and shield our song. As we go down life's pathway, our faith will keep us strong."
And I'm going to miss that next year when I go off to college. I'm going to miss wearing the varsity jacket, surrounded by the most incredible team I could ever ask for.
When I walk off the field after the last Friday night football game as a family and when I take off that jacket for the last time, I'll be taking off a layer of my soul permanently. Yet it will be a piece of me forever passed down to the next class. And while I'll have given up the only tangible object that represents the true Friday night feeling of connection, I'll be passing on a part of my life that I will so happily share with the next class -- who will someday realize that they too have only a fleeting moment of this tangible sense of family, yet they have a connection with the past and present that will live in their hearts far long after they take off their jacket.
"Amor Vincit Omnia, love will conquer all."