Allyssa’s Graduation

Just a little speech I recorded, anticipating a moment where someone would stand up and raise a toast to my little cousin Allyssa for graduating college.

Ever since she was a baby, my little cousin Allyssa has always been one of the most cherished persons in my life. Sometimes, I don’t even want to refer to her as my “cousin” because she’s something much more.

This year has been super tough for her, dealing with the loss of her sister, fighting a custody battle, all while dealing with a lot of family issues behind the scenes. And despite all that pressure bearing down on this beautiful 25, soon to be 26-year-old…Allyssa was still able to persist, work hard, and graduated from a Business School in Colorado.

Normally, there’d be a point during the celebrations where someone would stand up to say a few words, honoring her accomplishments and spreading good cheer. And as much as I would’ve LOVED to have done that on the spot…God knows my history. Allyssa would’ve appreciated every word, but chances are, someone in the room would’ve found something I said offensive or inappropriate! hahaha! That isn’t a complaint. Just seems to be my way.

So here, with the top video, I think was able to express my love and convey how proud I am. Even during the actual ceremony, I couldn’t help but tear up just thinking of that toddler I once knew, carrying her bear, mumbling through her words while trying to tell me something she wanted…Now, she’s a grown woman, married, a devoted aunt, and soon to be an incredible marketer or analyst. It was so cool seeing all of you.

It was probably the first time in a long time that I ever felt actual pain in my heart to have to say good-bye. And it definitely took a few days to get over how much I already miss them.

*raises glass *

What was cool about this trip (check out the video above)…was that I asked a lot of questions. I investigated. I listened. I observed. I was able to establish a relationship with the 6-year-old daughter of my late cousin. And…more than anything I was able to finally just let go.

As Allyssa knows, my bond with her is a bit unique. I’m not her father. Not her brother. I have hundreds of cousins but Autumn and Allyssa were always…ever since they were babies, there’s been this innate sense of responsibility I’ve carried when it comes to their safety, joy, and prosperity.

It’s like…that part of my heart only has enough space for several occupants and they’ve made themselves at home before they could form words. Her pain is my pain. Her peace is my peace. Her enemies are my enemies, and her friends will be scrutinized to make sure they are who they say they are.

After the sudden death of her sister, my heightened concern for Allyssa kept me up some nights and dominated my thoughts all year. There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t think about her, that my mind didn’t consider the worst case scenario and what, if anything, I could do to prevent it.

I had three goals when it came to visiting.

1) To celebrate and cheer for her graduation. I did that with flying colors. 2) To get a decent hug. Sounds trivial, but I really am a sentimental guy. When we went to Dave and Busters, we competed and she asked what she could give me if I beat her at the most games. I simply told her, “don’t forget about me.” To someone like me, that’s priceless.

And my 3rd goal was to convince her to come to Tampa, where she’d be within arm’s reach, where she can get away from the negative memories of the past and the very real threats that linger within Colorado Springs.

However, after talking and spending much quality time with her…I won’t say she’s convinced me that she’ll be alright, but I am convinced that she is a mature grown woman with a good head on her shoulders. She’s about to turn 26. This is HER life. Her choices. Her people. Her city.

Of course, I’ll always pray for her. I’ll always love her from the depths of my heart. But whatever happens, it’ll be because of the choices she’s made. From over 1,800 miles away, the most I can do is advise her and provide wisdom through the experience and knowledge I’ve attained. But at the end of the day, the choices are hers. I had to come to terms with that. And with this visit, I believe I finally have.

Closure…it’s what I’ve been searching for. This doesn’t mean these people are in my past, but it does mean I can continue on to future chapters. All of which, I know Allyssa will always be in.

As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t easy to say goodbye. I really did feel this intense sadness for a few days, the process of getting used to being alone again. For a moment, I really did consider whether I should relocate to Colorado Springs to be closer to her, her brother, and the 6-year-old…but, hahaha, she’s never been to my city! She’s never seen my world!

Until she comes to Tampa, this beautiful Bay Area of bridges, beaches, and palm trees, I think I’ll put that thought on the back-burner.

Overall, it was a fun trip! Super proud of Allyssa. Happy that she and her brother Chris have loving supportive spouses in their lives. Looking ever forward to being a part of the six-year-old’s life, watching her grow up and supporting her with whatever she needs.

Until next time, I’ll pray to keep my faith strong, my head up, and my heart healthy. Because tomorrow isn’t promised to us. It really will be by the grace of God that I see them again. More than anything, that’s what I’ve learned this year. To cherish every opportunity and moment while you still can.

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