Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The Ohio State University is a magnificent university. It is such a beloved institution for so many reasons: the quality of student education and life, the beauty of its campus, the camaraderie among the students, faculty, staff, alumni and extended family. While my wife and I won’t miss writing the tuition and other checks, we will miss having a convenient excuse to visit the campus.
Digression. You know what The Ohio State University could benefit from? Bringing in a veteran comics industry professional to impart his wisdom or lack thereof to students in various venues? I know a guy who would take such a position in a heartbeat and he’d probably work cheap. End of digression.
Commencement is a weekend-long event for Ohio State. Barb and her aunt Nora drove to Columbus on Friday night. On Saturday morning, they watched Kelly run her first ever half-marathon. My daughter is always setting tough goals for herself and, much more often than not, she achieves them. She completed her 13.1-mile run in two hours and 11 minutes, just shy of her target pace of a mile every ten minutes. I’ve absolutely no doubt she will achieve that goal the next time she runs a half-marathon.
On Saturday afternoon, Kelly, Barb and Nora were joined on a tour of Ohio Stadium by Nora’s daughter Heather, Heather’s husband Mike, and Nora’s amazing grandchildren, Prince Chase and Princess Gaby. The stadium is a huge and exciting edifice, a landmark even within a university abundantly rich with many legendary buildings.
I drove to Columbus late Saturday afternoon with my neighbor Greg and his girlfriend Sherie. Greg and his daughter Giselle are true family to us and Sherie is getting there fast. We arrived in time for dinner at Kelly’s favorite restaurant, El Vaquero, with all of the people mentioned above. Great food and a giant margarita that was perhaps more than a non-drinker like me should have ordered. I did survive the experience.
From the restaurant, we went to OSU’s Commencement Eve Candlelight Ceremony, an emotional and lovely event which is held in front of the Thompson Library. On arriving at the Oval, which is the heart of the university, Kelly was given her alumni pin and we were given candles and program cards. With typical OSU thoroughness, student volunteers had folding chairs available for those who needed them. If I heard correctly, the Candlelight Ceremony is put on and paid for by the Student Union, one of countless examples of the students giving back to their campus community.
The opening act to the Candlelight Ceremony was a jazz band made up of students and former students. I never caught their name, but I enjoyed their version of “Kill the Beast” from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Nicely done, gentlemen.
Remember that giant margarita from three paragraphs ago? I entered the library - which is sensational - to use the restroom. While I was in one of two stalls, I heard someone say. “You can take the stall. I know you like your privacy. We’ll call it the Pat Brennan Memorial Stall.”
As I exited my stall, I said out loud, “I know that name.”
Pat and Tom Brennan are good friends of my son Eddie. If my memory serves me correctly, Tom graduated the same year as Eddie. Pat was graduating with Kelly. I was going to post on Eddie’s Facebook page that it was a thrill to meet Pat and Tom Brennan in the men’s room of the library, but I might want to run for public office someday. But it was cool to run into these fine young men.
We chatted for a bit as we were walking back out to the Oval and I said hello to their parents. In answer to their question, Eddie had gone to the Kentucky Derby that day, but would be back in Columbus later that evening.
The actual Candlelight Ceremony opened with a welcome from student speaker Marla Trinidad, another member of the Class of 2014. What a confident and clearly capable young woman! She introduced all of the other evening’s speakers: Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, the Vice President for Student Life; graduating student Shane Ingalls, who had competed with 1000 fellow graduates for the honor of giving the Commencement Eve Address; OSU Interim President Dr. Joseph Alutto, a man with a long and very distinguished career of service to the institution, and Archie Griffin, the legendary football player and an executive with the OSU alumni organization. Also included on the program was a retrospective slide show of the Class of 2014.
Griffin lit a candle and then he and other speakers went into the audience to light our candles. With the Oval filled with flickers of light, we sang “Carmen Ohio”:
Oh come let's sing Ohio's praise
And songs to Alma Mater raise
While our hearts rebounding thrill
With joy which death alone can still
Summer's heat or winter's cold
The seasons pass the years will roll
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship O-hi-o!
It was a moving evening, though I somehow managed not to tear up. At least not then.
Sunday morning. Commonly known as “The Horseshoe” or, more often, “The Shoe,” Ohio Stadium is the fourth largest football stadium in the United States and the seventh largest non-racing stadium in the world. It has a seating capacity of over 100,000 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Barb, Eddie, Nora and I were at the Stadium when its gates opened. With just over 10,000 degrees and certificates being awarded to the spring semester class of 2014 and with family and friends of these graduates attending, the crowd would easily be over 60,000 people. I’m likely low on that estimate.
We “reserved” over a dozen seats. Though some of our group would leave to walk around and other members take their seats, we ended up with the four early birds, Greg, Sheri, Heather, Mike, Chase, Gaby, Rose (Barb’s mother), Patty (Barb’s aunt), Terry Fairbanks (one of my oldest friends and Nora’s husband), Giselle, Chris (Kelly’s “big,” which is a sorority thing), Anthony (Chris’ fiancé) and Kara (Kelly’s “little”). We were a happy group and that was the case for every group there. You’d have to go a long way to find so much joy in one place.
The Ohio State University Wind Symphony played for a half-hour or more before the official noon start to the commencement. We were welcomed by Dr. Adams-Gaston, which was followed by the impressive processional of graduates. The invocation by Dana C. Schroeder of the Department of Chaplaincy and Clinical Pastoral Education came next, then the raising of the American flag and the singing of the National Anthem. Leading the singing was Jason M. LeGrair of this graduating class.
The commencement address was given by Chris Matthews, host of the “Hardball with Chris Matthews” show on MSNBC. Though we share many of the same progressive views, I can’t say I’ve been a fan of his in the past. Much to my delight, Matthews delivered what is easily the best commencement speech at any event I’ve attended in my life. It was funny, sincere and completely on point with wonderful advice for the graduates. If you can find the speech online, I urge you to
read or watch it.
Digression. All speakers and portions of the commencement could be viewed on large screens at either end of the stadium. Save for a few glitches and quite a few close-captioned misspellings, it was a great way to keep the audience close to the ceremony.
Matthews was followed by the conferring of honorary degrees and of distinguished service awards. There was the conferring of degrees in course. Archie Griffin welcomed, as he had the previous night, the new alumni to The Ohio State University Alumni Association. LeGrair returned to the stage to lead the audience in the singing of “Carman Ohio.” All leading up to the moment towards which Kelly had worked for four years.
We were close enough to the field that Kelly could see us and vice versa as she passed by our seats after getting her diploma. I’ve never seen her more radiant. Her graduating with honors was a down-to-the-wire thing and, while I knew about it, Kelly hadn’t told her mom. When she learned of Kelly’s accomplishment, Barb was every bit as radiant as our daughter.
We made our way out of the stadium and headed for the Oval to take photos. You can see some of them on my Facebook page and more when I receive them.
From the Oval, we went to the second-story apartment Kelly has been sharing with three other girls. Nora and Terry had left early and set up hot food and tables for everyone. It was a tight fit - at one point there was around two-dozen people in this really “snug” apartment - but the company and the food and especially the joy in the accomplishments of Kelly and her housemate Bri just couldn’t be contained. It was a magical afternoon.
So...I didn’t tear up at the Candlelight Ceremony and I didn’t even tear up when Kelly got her diploma. So what got my waterworks going ever so slightly?
It was when I had a moment with Bri and the opportunity to thank her for her friendship with and support of Kelly. Kelly’s friends mean the world to her and us and well they should. She’s always had a knack for surrounding herself with good people. That will serve her well in life. She might not see Bri and her other friends on a frequent basis, but I have no doubt she and they have made good friends for life.
Shortly after I spoke with Bri, her dad Tom made a toast to both his daughter and mine and our families. That got me tearing up and, much to my chagrin, it’s happening again as I write this section of the bloggy thing. Hey, I’m Italian. We can be an emotional people.
Kelly’s lease runs through July. She will be dividing her time between Columbus and home town Medina while looking for work. Her degree is in Criminology and Criminal Justice. When she comes home this week, her and I will go over what kind of job she seeks. I’ll probably post something here because - what the heck - maybe one of my five thousand Facebook friends and bloggy thing readers will be able to give her a lead to a job. Just don’t ask her any questions about my writing because she doesn’t read it.
Hey, I didn’t say Kelly was a perfect daughter. Just pretty darn close to one.
Eventually, one of her friends will tell her about today’s blog and she’ll read it. So when she does...
I love you, Kelly, and I’m so proud of you I could cry. Which I’m doing right now.
I’ll be taking a break from the bloggy thing for several days while I work on other matters and projects. But I’ll be back as soon as possible with more stuff.
© 2014 Tony Isabella