Tonight I was given a reason to think about why a university might do big tributes such as we saw for Cornhusker football player Sam Foltz, #27. I saw several people comment they thought it was way overblown, or they didn’t get what it had to do with the business of the actual game. As a member of the UNL family, please let me explain.
You were watching us recover a lantern.
For his family it’s a chance to cry again, this time supported by everyone around them. It was a time for all of his teammates to acknowledge loss, and it’s nice for everyone who watched him play to reflect Sam helped provide a community-building activity many Nebraskans take pride in.
What I want to explain is that tonight was a way for all of UNL to grieve, too. Even if we didn’t know the student, we know The Students. We spend so, so many hours trying to prepare for them, interest them, ask them to grow up, remind them to enjoy youth. We talk (imperfectly) to The Student, listen (imperfectly) to the Student, grade them and grade ourselves on the development of The Student. We’re trying to ignite growth.
Sometimes we’re floored by how remarkably young they look when a 17 year-old kid raises their hand requesting permission to use the restroom. Sometimes we’re floored when four years later an adult with the same name apparates beside your desk asking permission to list us as a reference for the application to work on the Hadron Collider at CERN, or The Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts. They’re trying to ignite a dream.
Everybody: The President, the Deans, the professors, the advisers, the support staff, the librarians, the lab techs, the coaches, the damned people who painted the “N” on the football field…everybody takes the ignited spark, places it in a paper lantern made of a diploma, then gives it a push. When everything happens the way it’s supposed to, our lanterns are long gone while theirs float out to the waters we won’t live to see.
There’s always a memorial on campus for a student who dies. Some are in classes but usually it’s departmental, within Greek houses, or by the fountain on Main Campus. So. For anyone who felt tonight was too much or blown out of proportion, that’s your right and this probably won’t change it. But if you were simply perplexed by the entire thing now you understand what you may not have known before.
You watched what we do when a lantern doesn’t make it.