You were always still at practice by the time it was dark outside, you showcased your skills at every Friday night football game, and you made a ton of new friends along the way. No, you weren’t on the school’s football team: You were part of the band.

Day in and day out you practiced marching and playing. You tested every note over and over again to make sure you got it just right. You tossed your flag and rifle repeatedly until your catches became solid and consistent. You spent hours running around in the blazing heat working from set to set, just to hear “One more time!” being yelled by the directors. Your captains and section leaders scolded you for slacking (which made you want to be even better). The band director never seemed to notice when you did something right, only when you screwed something up, and sometimes it got so bad that you wanted to quit.

Be better. Keep your feet in time. Spin together. Play louder. Make your sets. These are the things you heard a million times, and you wondered if the show was ever going to look decent. But you persisted. And you pushed others to be their best as well as yourself. And the goals for the group were set out from the very start: be the best. And the idea of winning at the end of the season made your heart race and nudged you to work harder.

After being in band for a few years, I’ve come to learn that all of these things were worth the pain and trouble. Being in band made me a better performer. More importantly, it made me be a better person. And this was only due to the amazing people I met along the way.

Thank your band director. Thank them for pushing you. Thank them for goofing off and telling jokes that didn’t make any sense. Thank them for yelling at you when you were wrong and for congratulating you when you were right. Thank your band director for all the times he asked, “How are you?” when you seemed a little down. Thank them for all the opportunities he gave you, whether you knew it or not.

Thank your instructor. Thank them for teaching you everything you know. Thank them for realizing your potential and pushing you to be your best. Thank them for the advice they gave you when you needed it and the advice they gave you when you didn’t. Thank them for laughing at your silly jokes and for understanding when you had a bad day. Thank them for being your friend as well as your teacher.

Thank your section leader. Be grateful for all the times they made you redo the work or replay the song just so the entire group could be better. Thank them for guiding you and for picking you up when you were down. Thank them for taking responsibility (even when it wasn’t their fault), and thank them for the knowledge they passed on to you.

Thank your entire section. Thank your section for all the bus rides and football games. Thank them for working as a unit instead of as individuals and for always allowing a little friendly competition. Thank them for being your friends when you needed them most.

Thank your mom and dad. Thank them for coming to your performances, even if it meant sitting on the hard bleachers, rain or shine. Thank them for buying your instrument and equipment and sacrificing their own needs to suit yours. Thank them for crying every time you caught your toss and thank them for crying with you when you didn’t. Thank your parents for being your number one supporters.

Thank yourself. Thank yourself for not giving up. Thank yourself for pushing harder with each run through. Thank yourself for never handing out blame, but instead taking responsibility. Thank yourself for joining such a great organization.

Band has taught me many things. I learned how to be a leader, a friend, a perfectionist, a jokester, a therapist, a performer, and much more. I learned that working as a group to become better was more important than telling others what to do. I learned to take criticism and to give it. I learned to cry and to laugh and that making mistakes is not the end of the world. I realized “One more time” never actually means “one more time” and how a singular person can make a difference.

No matter how hard you were pushed or how many losses you faced, you loved every minute of being in band, and you wouldn’t change a thing.

P.S. I am sending a personal thanks to my high school band director and guard instructor. Both of whom have made me the person I am today, and for that, I am forever grateful. Thank you for being my mentors and my friends.