Parks & Recreation is about to have its series finale, and I have feelings about this. Of course, when any show ends that you have watched for a few seasons, the plots of which you have followed and the characters of which you have loved as if they were the weekly happenings in your own life (i.e. Gilmore Girls, The Office) it is going to be sad. But back in 2009, when Parks first aired, there was no one quite like Leslie Knope (or Ron Swanson, for that matter) on television.
Leslie is ambitious to an intensity the likes of which I have both admired, emulated and been completely freaked out by over the years. She is smart and hard-working, but also a little messy and a little annoying and a little much. She is uncompromising, a fierce friend, passionate, nerdy, neurotic, uptight… and all of that, all of those things that are played up to be huge, overbearing and unreasonable faults that need to be fixed in so many female characters we see on screen…are just Leslie. She doesn’t want, nor does she need, to be changed. Leslie Knope has, like Hermione Granger before her, made it okay for those of us who are working hard, decidedly not laid-back, opinionated and maybe talking just a little bit too much, without embarrassment and without apology.
I will miss Leslie. I will miss Pawnee. I will miss that weekly reminder of just how great it is to love things and to do things and to give it your all and to surround yourself with people you love and admire.
And though Leslie Knope, Our Lady of Ambition, is definitely the character that I relate to the most on a deeply personal level, I have learned invaluable lessons from every single resident of Pawnee over the years. I share some of the most important below.
Donna Meagle Taught Me to Be Confident:
Has there ever been a more bad ass female character on television than Donna Meagle? She is cousins with Ginuwine, she owns a fierce Benz, she never forgets to live-tweet this bitch, knows how to treat herself and does it look like she drinks water? But most of all she has the sort of self-confidence that we should all be striving for every day. She knows she is amazing, and she doesn’t need you or anyone else to confirm that for her… least of all whatever gorgeous guy she’s got waiting in the car. Anyone who can loudly proclaim their intentions to rock Robert Pattinson’s world is a queen in my book.
Tom Haverford Taught Me to Dream Big:
Tom always knew that government wasn’t his dream job, and throughout the seasons we’ve seen him try and fail at various business ventures including a partial club ownership, the creation of Snake Juice (which was practically rat poison), the creation and quick demise of Enterainment 720, the opening and shutering of Tommy’s Closet, and finally the opening of Tom’s Bistro, which finally made Tom the sort of connoisseur he’s always known he was. Tom never once gave up on his dreams, even when everything seemed to be crashing down around him. He knew he had what it took to have the sort of career he could be proud of, and with a little help from his friends, he made it happen. That determination is something I will always be working toward in my own life.
April Ludgate Taught me that Growth is a Good Thing:
When we first meet April she is a 20-year-old brat, more concerned with making mischief than anything else. And though we still see vestiges of that old April now, she has grown more than any other character on the show. She has worked through a lot of the insecurities that caused her to disconnect from the people around her and has become a woman who is looking for her passion and is finding it. Plus, she has fully fallen in love with all of her friends and her husband over the years, no longer girl who depends on Orin, prince of darkness, for camaraderie. April had shown me that it’s important to open up your heart to the world around you, to take in every experience, and not be so afraid to show others your heart.
Ron Swanson Taught Me that You’re the Boss of Your Own Life:
Ron Swanson is no nonsense. He does what he wants. He has no regrets. He is Ron fucking Swanson. And while we may not see eye to eye on everything (I am the Leslie Knope in my own life, after all) what I have learned from Ron is that simplicity can be the key to success, that doing what feels right to me is most important at the end of the day, and that you never half-ass two things, you whole ass one thing. Making my own rules, deciding that what I care about is what my time is worth working on and toward, and keeping my emotions steady even when I sometimes feel like everyone around me is a massive idiot is Ron’s legacy in my heart.
Jerry Gurgich Taught Me that Positivity is the Key to Happiness:
No one messes up more than Jerry (Larry? Gary? Whatever) and no one is more openly ridiculed. But while he usually can’t make it to 9 a.m. without dropping coffee in his lap, shredding an important document, and being chastised by his co-workers, he is probably also the happiest person in Pawnee. Jerry has taught me that no mistake is permanent, there are very few things that can’t be fixed with a positive outlook, and other people’s opinions don’t factor into my own state of mind.
Andy Dwyer Taught Me that Childlike Wonder is Always a Good Thing:
Andy Dwyer is a grown man who plays dress up for a living. He is often confused, and a little lost. When we first met Andy he was about to be dumped, and was soon living in a pit with no job and no money. But he turned it all around by making the best of a bad situation. He created the best newsstand the Pawnee goverment building had ever seen. He played with Mouse Rat whenever he could. He became a devoted husband to April. He turned a love of childlike fun into a career in television. He isn’t tied down by much of anything and isn’t self conscious when he’s undoubtedly the silliest person in the room. He showed me that staying innocent in this world is hard, but not impossible.
Ann Perkins Taught Me that You Have to Make the Hard Decisions for Yourself:
Ann was undeniably the most grown up person in Pawnee. She kept Andy from poisoning himself with spray painted M&M’s. She controlled Leslie’s crazier moods, got out of relationships when they were no longer healthy and no longer served her, realized that changing for the men she was dating would never work out, took on two jobs for the health of Pawnee (after first making it clear that Leslie could in no way steamroll her into it), and, when she decided she wanted to be a mom, took steps to make that happen. She, along with Chris, were the first to move away from Pawnee, so that they could raise their baby in a place where they would feel comfortable and happy and excited. Ann is independent and unafraid of change and doesn’t wait for life to happen to her–she makes things happen for herself. She knows what she needs, and is a picture of how adulthood can be both fun and responsible.
Ben Wyatt Taught Me to Stay True to Myself:
Ben Wyatt is a huge nerd. He’s never hidden from his failures. He’s always been 100% true to himself, and that has seen him go from an uptight numbers guy to an unemployed failed claymation artist, to the manager of Leslie’s campaign and now running a bid to be a state senator for himself. He loves calzones and Game of Thrones and will treat himself to that Batman costume, whether you think it’s weird or not. Not changing to fit some idea of what the people around him think he should be, and all that he has accomplished because of that, is a real testament to knowing yourself and doing what makes you happy.
Chris Traeger Taught Me that My Body is a Temple:
Of course Chris’s obsession with health is played to big laughs, but if you didn’t at least think twice about the greasy snacks you were stuffing into your face when you were watching him jog, and do yoga and create painstakingly delicious turkey burgers, then we weren’t watching the same show. Chris lives his life full of energy and gusto and unyielding positivity and he is able to do all of that because he takes good care of himself. We could all use a few more veggies, a lot more water, and a bit more physical exertion. Even though we, and Ann, all know jogging is the worst, Chris has reminded me that what you put into life is what you get out of it.
Leslie Knope Taught me that Friends, Waffles and Work are the Most Important Things:
Leslie is a Pawnee Goddess. She puts uteruses before duderuses. She tries new things, she remembers all of her friends’ birthdays (and half-birthdays, and the anniversary of their first lunch dates together), she sets up Galentine’s Day brunches, and makes a beautiful park out of nothing but determination a grit where there was once a massive, empty dirt pit. She doesn’t factor failure into her life, and when it happens, she picks herself up and makes something even better. She is a color-coded binder, and a wedding dress featuring her campaign flyers, work victories, and portraits of her biggest female idols. Making things she’s proud of and that make the world a better place, surrounding herself with a small group of people that she loves, and eating as many tasty waffles as she can: Leslie knows what she wants out of life and she gets it, not through luck, but out of sheer persistence, hard work and lots and lots of sugar.
By Kerri Jarema; Main image via