"You never forget your first _____"
This phrase, with the blank filled in, is often used while looking back fondly at something you experienced that still touches your soul - and so, it's true of me today as I reflect on the loss of an amazing person - Greg Junell. Who, you might be asking, is Greg Junell?
Greg Junell - 2011Greg was and still is the heart and soul of my very first experience with community. We didn't call it 'community' back then, but looking back on it now, the slo.punks was the first community I can remember being welcomed into with no reservations. When you are a teenager away from home for the first time, experiencing college at a very competitive school like Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, life can be scary, awkward, and downright difficult. Though 'The Punks' (think Cyberpunk, not punk rock) didn't have formal leadership per se, Greg was the closest thing they had to a community shepherd.
Even now, I think back to meeting him for the first time - big tall Greg, red beard sprouting out in every direction, but with a smile and a heart that just oozed out of every one of his pores. Greg was one of the few people I've ever met in my life who always seemed happy to see an old friend, or make a new one. Part computer guru, philosopher, pirate radio DJ, and big kid, he could engage in manic silliness one minute, and then dive deep into his psyche to argue philosophy with you the next.
Greg didn't always agree with everyone (I know he and I had vastly different political views for example), but he truly was the model that I think we need more of in our society today - reasoned discourse. I never came away from a conversation with Greg angry or upset about our differences. I frequently came away enlightened or challenged to look at my life and views in a unique way.
I think the best testament I've heard about Greg though is one shared by several of my classmates at Cal Poly through the years - even those of us who had not had as much direct contact with him as we used to are feeling his passing in a very raw and emotional way. His impact on our lives is something I know we are all grateful for. He spent the most recent years of his much too short life helping inspire the next generation as a teacher - I can only imagine the awesome times those kids who got to learn from him had! :)
I'll always carry the experience of my first community with me going forward, and I have Greg to thank for that. Rest easy my friend, you've earned it.