‘A piece of home’

Published 11:07 am Saturday, December 16, 2023

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Friends from kindergarten graduate JMU together

In life, the challenges are made lighter and the joys are made brighter when experienced with friends, and Makayla Burks and Cameron Pagan can testify to this to a special degree.

They did not plan it, but they went to and met at the same elementary school in Windsor, grew close on the same youth rec softball team, attended the same middle school and high school, opted to go to the same college, had separate experiences there but eventually switched to the same major, leading them to share the same house as they stayed for the same extra semester, and on Saturday, Dec. 16, they shared the same stage as they graduated with Bachelor of Science degrees in nursing.

“It’s been absolutely great,” Pagan said, and Burks said that “it’s meant the world to me to be able to go through big life-altering steps” with lifelong friendship to accompany them.

In the week leading up to their college graduation, both Burks and Pagan were spending significant time studying for the National Council Licensure Examination, which is the test they have to take and pass to gain the license that will enable them to work as nurses.

In between study sessions, though, they took time to talk about a friendship that has had such a notable impact on their lives, tracing it back to the beginning.

“We met through school but became best friends through softball, I would say, when we were just little kids,” Burks said.

Pagan said they met when they were either 5 or 6 years old, and she recalled them playing youth rec softball together at the Windsor ballfields around that time.

“So I guess it was around kindergarten is when we first started to become friends,” Pagan said. “I guess we were on the same team when we started playing, and her dad was our coach for softball, so we ended up getting close through that.”

Pagan remembered that they each had their own best friends at the start, but then toward the end of the softball season, a group of four team members coalesced into a tight-knit group.

She noted that “all four of us, our little group, became best friends, and from then on, we were pretty close.”

Burks and Pagan attended Windsor Elementary School together, then Georgie Tyler Middle School and Windsor High School.

Pagan said she and Burks played on the WHS softball team, and they also cheered together on the high school cheerleading squad.

Burks noted that they were always involved in the same activities, including the Community Electric Youth Tour.

“We did that together our junior year of high school,” she said.

For a lot of childhood friends, the conclusion of high school is when their paths start to diverge. But for Burks, Pagan and some of their best friends, their paths continued on together to James Madison University.

“Four of our best friends ended up going, so it was four of us total that ended up going to JMU,” Pagan said. “I don’t think we really based our decisions on each other at all.”

Burks agreed with Pagan’s assessment on that. 

Burks’ older sister went to JMU, so Burks had gotten a sense of what the school was like earlier than many of her fellow students.

“I kind of fell in love with the school from the point I was in seventh grade till when I applied to college on my own,” Burks said. “So just getting in and being with my best friends happened to be just a bonus by that point.”

Pagan said, “Once I toured JMU, I just knew I loved it.”

When they started at the school, Burks and Pagan kept in touch but embarked on distinct collegiate experiences.

“We were always friends throughout the whole entire college experience,” Pagan said, adding that “I think it was good that we had each other to experience it together, but we weren’t with each other constantly. 

“I think that was really important for us to make our own friendships,” she added, noting that they embraced the opportunity to expand their horizons after leaving a small hometown and joining a community of 20,000 students.

Another thing that put Burks and Pagan on separate tracks was the fact that they had separate majors at the time.

Pagan originally went to JMU wanting to be a psychologist.

“I decided I wanted to be a nurse after I took a class freshman year and it was a career exploration class to see what you wanted to do,” she said. “I sat on it for a semester, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

Burks started out as a marketing major, following in her older sister’s footsteps.

“But I knew deep down, I was like, ‘Well, I really have always wanted to do something in health care,’ and I felt like nursing was my calling, so it just ended up working out that way,” Burks said. “And then once again, having Cameron also do nursing, it was good to have each other for that too. We’ve always been a part of the same things, which has worked in our own benefit.”

Pagan said, “We both ended up changing into nursing the end of our sophomore year, so we both had to end up doing an extra semester these past couple months.”

They were not roommates during their freshmen, sophomore, junior or senior years, but they arrived at that status in the extra, final semester, 

Pagan said, “Even though we both kind of went separate ways in college to begin with, we ended up together the last semester, which is kind of like a full-circle moment, starting out school with her at such a young age and finishing it together, living in the same house, doing the same experiences. But it’s definitely been nice having her throughout college to always have somebody to lean on and someone I know I’ve always trusted.”

Burks wholeheartedly agreed.

“We really did start and finish together, which it’s been nice to not go through things alone, especially when it’s nursing school and all the hard stuff that comes along with that,” she said. “So it’s been nice to have each other.”

Both Pagan and Burks took time to put their friendship into words.

“I feel like our friendship has definitely grown a lot,” Pagan said. “We’ve gone through college together, and college is definitely a different experience, especially coming from the small town we grew up in and (then) going to school with 20,000 people and both doing our own thing. I think we’ve just seen each other grow professionally and just grow into well-rounded people overall.”

Pagan said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been as close to a person. We’re very close. It’s nice and comforting to know you have a piece of home with you wherever you go.”

Burks said that at this point, Pagan is more a sister than simply a friend.

“I feel like I know her just as much as I would know a sister, if that makes sense,” Burks said.

They both noted that they are in frequent communication with each other.

“There’s not much time that goes by when we’re not talking to each other and communicating what’s going on in each other’s lives,” Burks said. “But even if we have went time without seeing each other, (we’ve) always (been) able to pick up right back where we left off.”

Burks has accepted a job in Charlottesville where she will be working in the medical intensive care unit at the University of Virginia. Pagan has accepted a job in Norfolk where she will be working in pediatrics.

Because of their difference in specialities, Pagan said they will probably never work in the same hospital, “but maybe in the same town one day. But we’ll definitely always still be friends, and I’m sure we’ll talk every single day. We are hard to separate.”