Sep 142009
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

I truly believe that “life” is defined by the people with whom you interact and the quality of these interactions. I initiated this column I call “Human at the Whiteboard” to make people think about the interactions between students and instructors. I did this mostly because I think some students do not view the person at the whiteboard as a part of their human community.

My last column highlighted the continuing interactions that I have had with former students over the summer.

This has made me think about the question of what a friendship is and wonder more about the relationships that I have with my students outside of the classroom. I, of course, struggle with the give and take of any relationship. All of the interactions I have with people help me define what a friendship is, with the needs and expectations better articulated and strengthened everyday.

A wise man I know recently told me that after his many failed romantic relationships, he has re-thought his approach to partnerships. He used to think of his needs first, not taking the needs of his partner’s into consideration.

He mentioned that he was going to approach his new relationship differently. He was going to try to be a friend to his partner, first, before taking his own needs into consideration.

The down side about friends that give you joy is that it takes a tremendous amount of effort to retain a friendship. If you are not in the same residence hall, class and neighborhood or in any similar proximity, it takes effort to be in contact with that person. Face it: if both people do not take the time to be a friend to the other, the friendship will end.

Because many of you have traveled long distances to come to CSU, it is going to take an effort to stay in touch with those you left behind. When this fails to happen, these friendships will fade as you are fostering new relationships on campus.

Some years after leaving high school, my school-hood relationships ended because I left our hometown. The only friend I left college with was my now ex-husband, and when I left Boston 16 years ago to come to Fort Collins, I left a tight-knit group of friends that I ate Chinese food with every Wednesday, and drank beer with every Friday night; only Sally remains of that group.

Does this mean I was or I am a bad friend? I think not, but it is time and distance that erodes relationships that once seem rock-hard. This is what life is about: leaving communities and entering new social spheres and making new friends.

The good thing is that cell phones, e-mail and social networking sites make staying in touch much easier. What is not so easy is what I did this summer.

I traveled to both sides of the country within two weeks to visit friends I met while I was going to school and working temp jobs that I have known for a decade or two. Priceless reunions are the benefits.

I digress. Because of my educational attainment, and because of the community in which I live, I have been blessed by the opportunity to take the lessons of more than 45 years of life and use those skills and form additional relationships with the very special people who have walked into my classroom.

An important start to any friendship is not to dismiss those whom you consider different and to not take for granted the friends with whom you have had the company for many moons. Life is all about the people you allow to become your friend.

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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