For Courtney Backen ’15, the expression “Cobber family” means something powerful.
No family members attended Courtney Backen’s first Family Weekend.
Instead, she found herself co-planning the annual celebration’s Family Fun Night and cringing with loss each time she heard the word “parent.”
“People get caught up in the perfect idea of a family – mom, dad and siblings – and not everybody has that support,” says Backen ’15, who is chair of the Family Weekend committee this year.
Backen’s mother and father died when she was in her teens, both from terminal diseases that were diagnosed when she was in preschool. Until she graduated from Burnsville High School, she lived with a grandmother in Bloomington, Minn.
Those experiences – combined with her adoption from South Korea – have led her to cherish an expanded definition of family.
“Family is about the people you live with, the people you eat meals with and do activities with,” she says. “They are the people in your life who are accepting and caring and open.”
Backen rarely mentioned her family during her first year at Concordia. When she was first asked to serve on the Family Weekend committee, her heart sank. But the experience turned out for the best. She made friends and basked in the excitement around her. She also was so busy that weekend that she didn’t feel alone.
During the past two years, Backen’s family has grown to include the Family Weekend committee; The Concordia Band, where she plays flute; her roommates; and faculty in the English department. The expression “Cobber family” means something powerful to her and is just one reason she wanted to lead this year’s Family Weekend festivities.
“These are the people who have been with me every step of the way,” she says.
Backen now tells her story more openly to provide support for students who have experienced loss. Earlier this fall she led a session titled “Growing from Grief: How We Rebuild Happiness” at the annual Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium.
She also hopes her experience will teach something to other families, including her grandmothers, an aunt and an uncle who attended this year’s Family Weekend.
“When families see how tightknit we are at Concordia, they should feel good that their student is here,” she says. “We are about community.”