25 May, 2015

Dedicating Thom's Tree II

I've been gone for awhile - busy with writing offline.

On Wednesday, two weeks ago (May 13), the college dedicated a beautiful new magnolia tree to my father's memory.

All photos courtesy of Linnea Franits.

My parents loved magnolia trees. (My personal loyalty belongs with cherry trees.) As many readers know, Tree (the Tree, one-and-only, irreplaceable) had been dying and was finally cut down in the fall last year. Many readers, I'm sure, found great symbolic meaning in Tree, and in my father's relationship to Tree, so I imagine you don't need me to point the symbolism in Tree's demise. This Tree had bloomed beautifully in the week before the dedication, but wind and heavy rain blew most of the flowers away. No worries - it will bloom again. 

On the way to the dedication, my son asked if we were all going to climb the Tree. Not yet, I told him, but maybe someday, when he and the Tree are both big enough.

Steve speaking - the photo on the screen is of
my dad's beloved geese, including one white goose
who had never been seen before he died
My dad's friend and colleague Steve Specht spoke, as did John Johnsen, Dave Roberts, and Dr. Behforooz. Dave was kind enough to share the text of his speech with me and gave me permission to post it - it will appear on Wednesday this week.

I don't know if I quite have the words to describe it yet, but this was a very bittersweet experience for me. My mom is also retiring at the end of this semester. I grew up at Utica College. My parents' affiliation with the school is older than I am. I was seven when my dad became dean and vice-president, and my memories are that my sister and I ran half-wild around campus and regarded it as a very large playground.

We got kicked out of the library playing hide-and-seek, and made do with hallways and file cabinets instead. I taught myself to do a cartwheel on a balance beam by practicing on the edge of the Oriental carpet in the dean's office. During long meetings, we made paper airplanes with messages conveying the desperate nature of our boredom and tried to surreptitiously fly them toward our father at the end of the conference table. When I was 11, I broke my foot falling off the stairs in the Burrstone House ballroom (a hotel turned dorm), where my sister, best friend and I had been staging plays for fun.

I did every single science project from seventh through twelfth grade in my dad's lab. I probably spent more of high school at the college than I did at my high school. Between classes, I took naps in my dad's comfy old leather recliner and played Myst 3 on his computer with all the lights turned off. (There's not much social life to be had, as a 14 year old in college, when you're trying to make sure no one realizes you're 14.)

I could go on and on - everything from the weird modern art sculptures to the tables full of rocks outside the geology classrooms to the cafeteria (site of the annual children's holiday party) holds significance for me.

But what I really wanted to do here was to say thank you.

Thank you to all the faculty, especially from roughly 1989 to 1998, for being my teachers and mentors, as well as my parents' colleagues and friends.

To Dr. Nassar, who somehow got talked into giving me an independent study in poetry, who was patient even when I wrote ridiculous, dramatic, dark, teenage drama, with no context and no subtlety. Thanks for the time you compared one line to William Carlos Williams - I managed to keep writing solely on the strength of that compliment for a long time.

To Dr. Bergmann, who taught me that fairy tales and fantasy had literary worth and didn't mark me down when I only turned in a paragraph's worth of reflection (because, at 15, I hadn't yet learned to BS).

To Dr. Behforooz, who tutored me in multivariable calculus after my actual teacher told me that I just had test anxiety and I should try meditating before tests. (It would have been freakin' awesome, though, if I could have just meditated my way to an understanding of the surface integral. That didn't happen.) After the tree ceremony, my mom reminisces about how when Dr. Behforooz first arrived in Utica, he was stunned to realize that the math they taught in one semester in his home country was taught over four semesters here.

To Dr. Cormican, who made a shy 16-year-old argue about polygamy in front of a classroom when she wanted to hide in the back row. That was exactly what I needed to learn to do. I'd make a completely different argument, now, by the way.

To Dr. McIntyre, who cornered me at my parents' spring party every year (starting when I was 12) to ask about my research and what my "next steps" would be. Pretty much preparation for the rest of my life, I think. Later on (oh okay, never mind, it was the following year), I waited until after the interrogation before hitting the bar.

To Dr. Aaronson, for putting up with me in his lab, when I apparently could not even count colonies accurately (that is my recollection, at least). I'm glad I realized early that lab research wasn't for me, and that it didn't mean research wasn't for me.

There are many others...Dr. Pier and Dr. Pfeiffer (chemistry), Dr. Rockefeller and Dr. Day (physics), everyone who judged the regional science fair and listened to me talk about schedule-induced polydipsia for five consecutive years, not to mention professors of Russian (good try convincing my parents to send me to Moscow for the summer!), computer science, and anthropology. I wasn't always a perfect student. I appreciate how hard you worked to help me learn anyway.