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Welcome, friends

Facebook has obviously modified what we consider "friends" in our world today. Maybe it's a good thing--reconnecting friends separated by time and distance, or allowing acquaintances to see beyond the typical passing hello's. Maybe it's a bad thing--causing some to seek out people to call their friends so they can increase their numbers, or possibly lowering the threshold of what's considered appropriate to share outside a circle of close friends. But as the graduating seniors of 2011 are now eligible to become my "friends" on Facebook, I find myself wondering about the increasingly ambiguous nature of friendship in our society.
Before Facebook and before becoming a teacher, these might have been my simple, uncomplicated definitions of a friend. 
  • Friends look out for each other. 
  • Friends laugh together. 
  • Friends cry together, or stay strong when the other cries. 
  • Friends work past the difficult times together, even when they caused the problem. 
  • Friends rejoice when the other one succeeds! 
  • Friends overlook shortcomings and focus on the best in each other. 
  • Friends offer grace when it's needed. 
  • Friends encourage each other when everyone else gives up. 
  • Friends respect each other, even in their differences. 
  • Friends spend time together. 
  • Friends grow to understand each other. 
  • And friends pick up where they left off even after years apart.
And although I have shared those experiences with many of the lovely people on my Facebook friends list, what strikes me now is that I find these definitions fit my students better than most of my Facebook friends. Teaching is a peculiar profession. To give of yourself for the good of others while keeping that professional boundary--It's a draining but rewarding mission. And to be honest, I used to feel nervous and uneasy with the idea of lowering that boundary a little for the graduates who want to become more typical friends, but I'm now glad that Facebook is making that a comfortable option!As much as I adore my 25+ year old colleagues, my job doesn't give me nearly as much time with them as with my students. 
So who do I spend each day laughing with? Sometimes crying with? Looking out for? Cheering for? I spend most of my days trying to encourage a bunch of 18 year olds who aren't technically my friends, but who require a similar level of commitment and care. And though not all of our experiences have been heart-warmingly positive, they have become more like my colleagues than my clients or patients. Their struggles become my struggles and their success becomes my success; if we don't work together, they won't reach their full potential and neither will I. 
Each time summer rolls around, I'm hit with refreshing feelings of freedom and exhilaration mixed with confusing emotions that mirror the loss of a friend or colleague. The truth is I'm happy to see them move on (especially once senioritis hits!) but sad to see them leave. So even though Facebook has blurred the line of friendship in our society, I've decided that I'm glad! Because now I have the opportunity to see these graduates go on to even bigger successes in their lives! And even though I won't be spending every day with them from now on (We can still say "Yay!" to that, right?), I am glad that I can still cheer them on and I can still support them if then need it. And I am happy that I don't have to say a true goodbye to all the wonderful young men and women who have earned my respect and admiration throughout our very unique time together. 
Chances are that most of my grads won't move past the relative distance of being a Facebook friend, but it's encouraging to know that these working relationships have been promoted to some form of friendship, even if only according to Facebook.