An echo. As I left my bedroom at my family’s house for the final time, every step I took created an echo. In a place that was once filled with trophies, princess dress-ups and laughter, I now found only memories of my many years there. Recently my family moved on from the house that built me, a change that made those echoes send shivers down my spine. Change. It can be so inevitable and it can be so hard. Often we can see it from a mile away, but it is no easier to bear.
    This year, I have had the chance to listen and learn from folks who have experienced some of the greatest changes and turmoil life can throw at us. I’ve visited with folks who overcame the odds, and went above and beyond to prove they would accomplish more. In the midst of dairy’s hurdles this year, each of you has shown me what it takes to rise up from the toughest experiences we face. You’ve shown me that walking away from all we know isn’t an opportunity to hear an echo of all we had, but a chance to use our voice moving forward. Thank you.
    It seems like just yesterday I typed my first article to you. Now with less than a month left in my reign, I’m finding more comfort than ever in being able to use my voice for the dairy community.
    My day is still brightened when I think of the memories made in this crown and sash. From events on the farm to county fair dairy shows, the connections I’ve made are phenomenal. On many of my visits, my cup was filled by a simple look of amazement from a student as they received an answer to their question. Other days, I was overjoyed by the emotion that poured out of stories told by the elderly from their time on the farm. And on every occasion I have the pleasure of meeting a dairy farmer, my heart pounds as I find how unique each of your farms are, and how pivotal your passion is in making dairy farming your lifestyle. This is what Undeniably Dairy looks like.
    It’s more than sharing how we ensure dairy is responsibly produced and locally driven. It’s more than pointing out how nutrient-rich dairy can be and how much real enjoyment it adds to our lives.
    It’s the people. It’s the cows. It’s the hugs. It’s the tears. It’s the smiles. It’s the laughter. It’s you.
    This year it has been easy to say I am Undeniably Dairy because I stand behind men and women like you. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and learn from you.
    In just a few days, I will experience a significant change as I crown your 66th Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Like so many changes, I knew it was coming. However, that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.
    As I reflect on my year and look forward to what is next, I want to leave you with a couple of golden nuggets I’ve treasured this year.
    First, I truly believe we are all in this together. If we cut out all the prejudices we so easily find in how we view our neighbors and fellow dairy family, we can be much more cohesive. We need the nutritionists, the heifer-raisers, the large and small farms, the folks who didn’t grow up in dairy and those who did, the milk haulers, the cheese processors, and everything in between. It takes all kinds of kinds to make the dairy community thrive. Continue searching for new opportunities and welcoming others into the dairy family.
    Secondly, I believe together we can face any adversity. As dairy farmers, we are not foreign to challenges. We all face things on our farms and in our personal lives that trigger emotion, frustration and worry. Please know you are not alone. Lean on one another. Help each other. Invite a neighboring farmer over for breakfast. Sometimes just being with someone can provide a comfort we all need at some point in our lives. In the words of one of our nearby dairy farmers, “that’s what neighbors do.”
    Dairy farmers, thank you. Thank you for welcoming me into your dairy family. Thank you for showing me your lives and hearts. Thank you for exemplifying hard work and good character. Thank you for being the reason I can say with confidence and pride that “at the heart of it all, farmers care.”
    Now and always, I choose to be Undeniably Dairy, for you.
    Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Rebekka Paskewitz, serves as the Minnesota dairy community’s goodwill ambassador. Throughout the year, Princess Kay helps people understand the dedication of dairy farmers to wholesome and nutritious food, and the way milk is produced.