Neff: Remembering a truly unforgettable friend

As an orientation counselor of three years, I’ve been able to experience some great moments at Villanova that, now as a graduate, I can luckily call upon as timeless memories. There isn’t a single workshop during staff training that can ultimately prepare a student leader for the nerves that come as the calendar approaches opening day – the day when you set off to acclimate 22 strangers to our dynamic college environment.

It is here where I would like to share one of these moments. As a scared-senseless sophomore hiding underneath my oversized bucket hat, I stumbled over different ways to introduce myself. In the meantime, I met a magnificently composed girl whose smile and warmly extended hand provided me with the deep breath I had been gasping for.

The conversation that followed I would never forget, not because of the words exchanged, but because of the unexpected serenity and absolute joy she instilled. I remember thinking that if all my students were as wonderful as this bright-eyed, compassionate girl, this stranger I just met, then I would be blessed. That stranger was Missy Harrell.

Just as expected, Missy continued to bring delight to every single member of our noble group 55. She not only established a comfortable atmosphere for everyone right from the start, but she also helped me feel secure as a leader with her unwavering support, something I would never come to see so gracefully again.

Although these freshmen were only a year younger than me, I could not have anticipated the maturity and poise that Missy had to offer the world; her brilliant personality was so accepting of others. I found myself continuously in awe of just how uniquely cool she was, and I would actually brag to the rest of the staff about my bright shining star. I looked at her as an equal and cherished the way we would share a sarcastic grin whenever someone would show up late, or when I would struggle to start up a cheer. Her words and expressions always held an incredible sense of wit and charm and you could instantly see the admiration on the faces of everyone who spoke with her.

I was fortunate enough to have been influenced by this charm and wit for the rest of my college experience. Unlike many students who drifted away after those four days of hoagies and name games, Missy was a true friend until the last time I saw her. She was always willing to join me for lunch in Connelly if I was alone, constantly following up on my busy schedule with advice and a good laugh and encouraging me to strengthen my character with her realistic and genuine disposition.

Although last semester we realized I would not see her again until my Homecoming, she returned from a semester abroad in Dublin and secretly graced the Senior Picnic in May. We enthusiastically embraced, with the glow of a hundred stories to share resting deep in our eyes. If I had known it would be the last hug, I would have held on a little longer and started listening to them and telling them, one by one.

The weather out here in Chicago has been cold and cloudy this past week, and without even a glance at the Villanova forecast, I can confidently assume it was just as dreary on a campus without Melissa Harrell’s beautiful presence. Your hearts are joined with mine in a restless and empty place; a place with many questions, a place that is quite unfamiliar and a serious place for mourning.

We must find our way back by spreading and celebrating the colorful stories of our beloved friend together. Catch a memory of this remarkable girl from the images running through your mind – be it your first encounter, a sarcastic grin, a conversation, or for those of you were not blessed to know her, maybe even just a story such as this – and hold onto it tightly. Seniors, take her with you this year all the way to graduation, where she rightfully deserves to be.

And as she always put it so perfectly, “Group 55 4-ever!”

Carrie Neff is a guest contributor to The Villanovan.