University Park, IL,
11:36 AM

International Day of Friendship 2018

Friends Changing the World One Relationship at a Time

At first glance, they look like sisters. But when you talk to Jessica White and Michelle Westergaard, both Governors State University seniors, it’s clear they share a deep bond of friendship. In fact, they are best friends.

“We just work so well together,’’ said Michelle, an Elementary Education major. “We’re honest with each other and communicate all the time.” Jessica, an Early Childhood Education major chimes in, “Like, we’re always texting.”

“Participatory communication” is a core value of the International Day of Friendship, which the UN celebrates today as a means to build better global relations, one community at a time. At GSU, these College of Education students say their bond strengthens the entire university community by supporting students and children across the region.

A cup of coffee broke the ice for the transfer students.

Both arrived at GSU in 2016—Jessica from Kankakee Community College, and Michelle from University of Illinois — and neither one knew anyone on campus. They just happened to sit together in their first class. Both placed their ice coffees on the table before the professor announced his rules: “He said, ‘No food or drinks allowed,’ and we both just slid our coffees under the table, at the same time. We didn’t even know each other,” said Michelle, meeting Jessica’s embarrassed glance with a laugh.

That act of solidarity set them on a path to collaborate on class projects, in the Student Education Association (SEA), and most recently in GSU’s newly minted chapter of Kappa Delta Pi ( KDP).

Jessica is the incoming president of SEA and vice president of KDP. Conversely, Michelle is incoming president of KDP and vice president of SEA.

As leaders in the student organizations, Jessica and Michelle are constantly working behind the scenes, organizing activities and fundraisers. It was the SEA that inspired Jaguars to don red noses at the end of spring semester to help children fight poverty.

Last year, the 57-member SEA was so active on campus that it won two national awards—including one for Student Life Outstanding Club of the Year. “We’re just really proud of the work we do here. It’s so important to pull everyone together,’’ Jessica said.

This year, the student leaders hope to build stronger foundations and boost participation, extending last year’s SEA theme—“Hands Out to Build Up.”

Michelle said the motto aligns with the mission of International Day of Friendship. “If we work together as friends, and as an organization, to host events and workshops, it benefits the GSU community, as well as the local community. Working well together locally teaches us to work together internationally. We can all learn from one another,” Michelle said.

This summer, the future teachers traveled abroad together to learn how Slovenians view education. It was their first time leaving the country, and they did it together.

For 12 days, they toured Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy as students and friends, cherishing their shared experience in each country. Together, they were inspired by the free education system there. And, together, they formed views of how they will run their own classrooms after graduating next year.

Their dream is to someday shape and guide little ones in the Southland—maybe even at the same school. For now, they are celebrating friendship and summertime and offer advice to incoming students looking for the best college experience.

“You have to participate in clubs. We started a friendship in class, but we fostered it by joining organizations,” Michelle said. Jessica smiles in agreement. “It keeps us close.”