I have been teaching Public Relations at Ithaca College this semester. It has been a tremendous experience, because even though you hear a lot about this generation being quite entitled, I have found the students who come into my class each day to be some of the most engaged I have ever taught. Is that true every day? Nope. But then who of us is engaged every day.
On Monday, in my Ithaca college email, a notice came in about a car accident involving four students, returning from Thanksgiving break who had swerved to miss a deer. The driver was killed. The other three were in various stages of being treated. One of those students was mine.
The last 6 months spent in Ithaca have been wonderful for me, and teaching a subject that I care about has been energizing and inspiring. I have gone to college football games. I have seen students outside class succeed in some very cool ways. So when the memorial student was scheduled for the student that had passed I knew I wanted to go. To show my respects to a young life, to acknowledge how close it could have been for the one student I knew, but also to pay respects to the Ithaca College community.
What I learned about Michael, a 20-year-old English major was amazing. I have been to plenty of services where I hadn’t met the departed, just someone close that I wanted to support. This service was unlike any other. Held in the Quaker tradition, where those who are moved to speak my rise and share their thoughts, both students and faculty stepped to the front of the neo-60s chapel. The first student to speak, an obviously distraught young woman immediately spoke of a memory of sitting on the living room floor where Michael was trying to explain that ‘baseball was a narrative…” Immediately, of course, I felt the connection to him. She went on to say that this young man could speak about the most boring things and make them interesting and accessible. Faculty got up and spoke about how he always shared something insightful in all his class discussions, and students remarked on how he rarely came to class with a notebook- much like the classic slacker- yet his mind was so insightful he was always able to raise the discussion. Students looked to him to fill the silences in classes, and he did, not with fluff but with insight that helped others understand it better. His poetry professor spoke of how Michael came to see him, to tell him he wanted to write about a Dylan Thomas poem for his paper. The professor asked if he felt comfortable with the piece, and Michael nodded and then recited the piece from heart. He had found it in high school and had been drawn to it.
Michael loved Shakespeare, and was going to London on the school’s study abroad program to study about him near the birthplace. He apparently could recite long stretches of the Bard, and did so often. One young lady who he walked home after a play recalled how she left wanting to know more about him. Another young woman talked about how she had promised to buy him a beer when he was 21- a day that will never come. He was on the debate team, but admired the opponents argument too much to ever really be good at debate. He led friends in games of D&D keeping all focused on the narrative. They all spoke of his voice- how it sounded and how he used it.
As I write this, I hope, you see that I didn’t know him, but I learned a lot about him from those that did. Just as he had clarified poetry passages for them, he also taught them how to see what was before them. It is cliche to say that Michael lives on in each of them, but from what I heard yesterday it truly does. The group of friends and faculty who spoke had only a short time to know this young man, and yet they painted a picture that was a clear as the most perfect sonnet. Each of these young people is remarkable. Some find it early, some find it later. Michael may have helped lead many to it.
Rest in peace, young Michael.