When people ask me how I — a first-generation college student and a first-generation Aggie — ended up at Texas A&M University, I can’t help but smile.

My Aggie story starts in 2002, when I met a girl named Amanda in my kindergarten P.E. class. She loved to wear maroon T-shirts and talk about how her dad went to Texas A&M University.

It took me about a month to remember her name, but she was the first friend I made, and as it would turn out, one of the best.

At the age of five I didn’t know anything about A&M or college in general, but that spring, when Amanda told me she was going to be an Aggie some day and asked if I wanted to be her college roommate, I didn’t question it.

Now, 16 years later, I’m getting ready to graduate from the best university in the world, and next year Amanda — now my college roommate of four years — will do the same.

My time at A&M has been full of the most unexpected opportunities and blessings.

When I started school here, I never imagined that I would photograph all five living former presidents together in Reed Arena, or that when one of them passed away just over a year later I would be missing my last week of fall classes before finals to fly to Washington, D.C. and cover his state funeral.

I never imagined that when Angel, The Battalion’s sports editor — and one of my best friends — turned to me as we stood in the south end zone of Kyle Field and said “well, Cassie, this is the last play of our college careers,” that the Aggies would go on to defeat LSU 74-72 in a whopping seven overtimes.

I never imagined that my little brother would follow me to A&M or that we would unintentionally sign up for the same sociohorticulture class during my last semester of college.

I never imagined that I’d get to write columns talking about my love for Silver Taps and Muster, and I definitely never imagined that a quote from one of those columns would be etched in stone on a marker in the Spirit Plaza for people to read for years to come.

A&M and The Battalion have without a doubt given me so many opportunities. But more importantly, they’ve given me a family. I don’t know where I’d be today without the friendship I found in my John 15 family during my freshman year or in The Battalion newsroom throughout the last three.

I certainly have a lot to be thankful for; from incredible coverages to finding my best friends in the basement of the MSC, to sharing my love for this university with my little brother.

It would be impossible to thank every person who has impacted my life in these last four years, but in true sentimental swan song fashion, I’m going to try.

To my mom: thank you for always encouraging me to push myself. Thank you for making sure I knew that college was an option for me and for working so hard to help me succeed. Your sacrifices and love do not go unnoticed, even though I fear that sometimes you may feel they do. I aspire to be even half as strong of a woman as you are.

To my brothers: I love you both so much. Cody, thank you for letting me spend a year being over-excited every time I saw you on campus. Sharing my last year of college with you has been such an unexpected blessing, and I couldn’t be happier that you’re part of my Aggie family, too. Also, please accept my Facebook friend request...

Curtis, you’re welcome for convincing mom to let you skip school for my Ring Day and my graduation.

I’m so happy that you get to be here with me for two of the biggest moments in my college experience.

To Amanda and the Waclawczyks: thank you for introducing me to A&M and for teaching me what it meant to be part of the Aggie family long before I started college.

To the rest of my family and all of the friends I have made along the way: thank you for your endless love and support.

Mr. Pils, thank you for being a constant sounding board and for never hesitating to provide me — or any of us Batt staffers — with guidance.

I didn’t know what I was signing up for when I submitted my application to Texas A&M, and I don’t know what to expect after I walk across that stage on May 10. But I do know, that no matter where I go or what I do, I am a better person because of my time at A&M.

Saying goodbye to this place and these people is without a doubt one of the most difficult things I’ve done. But still, I can’t help but be thankful for the unexpected blessing of having so much to say goodbye to.

Cassie Stricker is an agricultural communications and journalism senior and photo chief for The Battalion.

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