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By Lauren Sullivan

Kathie Lee and Hoda said a bittersweet goodbye Friday morning to their "ray of light," TODAY contributing correspondent Sara Haines.

“Someone once told me, ‘Sometimes you have to leave home to grow up,’” Sara told Kathie Lee and Hoda through tears. “It’s time for me to grow up.”

In her time at TODAY, Sara has flown through the air via jetpack, slogged through mud and obstacle courses, played firefighter for a day, and reported on more (much, much more) since she started on air in 2009; she joined the show as a production coordinator in 2002.

Kathie Lee and Hoda send Sara Haines off with a toast Friday morning.
Kathie Lee and Hoda send Sara Haines off with a toast Friday morning.Today

With cake and champagne to celebrate, Kathie Lee and Hoda gushed over their protégé. She’s a “ray of light, a burst of sunshine, a little sister,” they said. “Our little sister is growing up.”

An emotional Sara thanked the ladies for their support over the years. “I couldn’t have better teachers,” she said. “And I couldn’t be a bigger fan.”

Best of luck to you, Sara, from all of us at TODAY.

Hoda hugs Sara on her last day.
Hoda hugs Sara on her last day.Today
Kathie Lee wishes Sara good luck on her next adventure.
Kathie Lee wishes Sara good luck on her next adventure.Today