I Dreamed A Dream of Football at UMBC

Walking in the Commons between the Bookstore and the Flag Court, I looked up at a large poster and my eyes became fixated on this sight:

My heart raced and my imagination exploded with visions of Saturdays spent at UMBC Stadium, cheering on the Fighting Retrievers football team. Without stopping for even a moment to consider family commitments or mortgages, I envisioned spending countless hours and untold treasure on what would surely become the focal points of my future autumns. In my mind’s eye, I could easily see the enraptured alumni, gathering in the parking lots to tailgate and celebrate the arrival of football at UMBC. It had happened at Stevenson, and now it was happening here!

And then, as quickly as the dream could be dreamed, it was just as certainly shattered as I read the rest of the banner:

It was all a promotion for open positions at the Office of Residential Life. There would be no football team, no Saturdays spent on campus in mad delirium, no suddenly galvanized alumni flooding the campus each Fall at Homecoming.

Yes, one day I dreamed a dream of football, but it was only that – a dream. But even if I only lived it for a moment, the dream was sweet indeed. And as I walk our campus now, I still can hear the roar of the crowd echoing in my ears, as if calling to me from beyond the hills across the Loop, tantalizing me with what might have been. And what might still someday be.

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What It’s Like To Graduate – Winter Commencement 2009


I Came, I Saw, I Walked.

Yesterday was Winter Commencement at UMBC; in a bit, I’ll give you a window into my experiences there. But first, I want to back up a little bit, because I need to make mention of one of the neat perks of graduating: people are very happy for you, and glad to show it. For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing congratulations from many family and friends, and getting nice surprises, such as what was waiting for me Tuesday inside my office:

Here’s a close up of the greeting card and treats that Anna and Barb lavished me with:

I also want to thank my good friends and co-workers at the Department of Information Technology who so readily took up my cause when I was in search of an extra ticket for my mother-in-law. Sandy Campbell at Institutional Advancement told me that I must have a lot of friends at IT, because she received many calls on my behalf. In the end, everyone was able to see me graduate in person, and I feel fortunate and grateful to be able to work with such good friends.

With the extra seat having been secured, all that was left to do was graduate.

On Wednesday, the first thing I noticed when I got to UMBC were the many very visible traffic control stations.

The second thing I noticed was lots of signage – everywhere.

If you couldn't land tickets to get inside the RAC, you could watch Commencement on television in a Lecture Hall. I've been assured that this is a great experience, but I can't help but feel that it must be a bit surreal.

If you get your picture taken with True Grit early, there are no crowds to fight.

Graduates were directed to the basement of Sondheim Hall, a foreboding place to which I had never before been.

Once I got down there, I noticed that each major was posted on the wall of the hallway, and we were directed to gather in front of ours.

Slowly, the hallway began to fill up, and we were directed to arrange ourselves alphabetically within our major, as this is the way we would enter the RAC.

Helpful UMBC staffers walked up and down the hallways, shouting instructions.

Those students with names that might cause a reader to stumble had their names written phonetically on their yellow cards. We were told to hold onto our yellow cards as if our lives depended on it, and then give it to someone on stage just before we walked.

Front

At about 9:45, we began moving, and I expected that we would have to go outside. Not so! I had no idea that there was a tunnel connecting the basement of Sondheim Hall with the RAC, but there it was. I felt like I had been granted some secret knowledge because of my status as a graduate.

We processed in to the “Prince of Denmark March,” by Jeremiah Clarke. I was expecting “Pomp and Circumstance,” of course. When we got to our seats, we found this program waiting for us:

That's me on page 21!

The first thing all of us did upon entering the RAC was to scan the crowd wildly trying to figure out where our family and friends were seated. For the longest time, I couldn’t find mine, and then I saw why – they had somehow secured seats in the first row on the floor, in a place where I would literally walk right next to them as I went to the stage. From my angle, they had been screened by the graduates in front of me, but I was happy to see that they had gotten such good seats.

A large black curtain had been raised at the end of the basketball court as a backdrop to the stage; it was wide enough to fill in the area between the basketball championship banners and as tall. In front of it was the UMBC lettered logo. On the stage itself were banners representing each of the university’s colleges, and there were chairs from one side to the other to accommodate the many dignitaries. In the center of the stage was the main podium, with two smaller flanking podiums on either side. On the second floor, at the railing next to the track, an announcer acted as Master of Ceremonies during the processional.

After we were at our places, the faculty and administration processed in. The regalia worn by many of them seemed straight out of Tudor England, or at least Harry Potter.  UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski was his usual chatty, upbeat self as he entered the arena. Almost as soon as we had been seated we had to rise and remove our very carefully placed caps for the National Anthem, performed by Casey Hively, the sole graduate on hand from the Music Department. After this, there were various greetings from dignitaries, and then a fairly short address by President Hrabowski, which mainly focused on the diverse stories of those graduating. I continued to clutch my yellow card tightly, remembering the admonishments of the staff back in the basement of Sondheim Hall.

Soon the graduates were being called to the stage, by individual colleges (i.e. College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) and then by majors within those colleges. Staffers acting as ushers told each row when to rise and go forward, and wouldn’t you know it? Some unlucky Jonah two rows in front of me lost his precious yellow card! Staffers frantically tore through programs looking for the card, but to no avail. Regardless, he went to the stage, had his name called and got his handshakes like everyone else. Yes, that’s right, there’s no diploma given on stage, or even rolled up piece of paper – just a handshake from Dr. Hrabowski (which is still pretty cool).

That's me, almost to the stage.

This is me almost to the stage. Note the magical yellow card in my right hand.

Collecting my well-earned handshakes.


After handing in the yellow card and getting your hand shaken repeatedly, you’re done and it’s back to your seat. As we returned, we were given these lovely parting gifts form the Alumni Association:

How to live in the Grown-Up World manual. Over 180 pages of helpful tips for young graduates. Most of these principles I have already violated countless times.

Inside the envelope on the left was the brochure on the right.

The inside of the brochure.

After getting back to our seats, all that was left to do was to listen to the other graduates’ names being called, taking note of the occasionally wild outbursts from some particularly exuberant families. One group in the bleachers was waving an Angolan flag.

After everyone had been called, Dr. Hrabowski spoke for just a few more minutes, admonishing us to savor these moments, as it “doesn’t get any better than this.” After this, we stood and sang the Alma Mater and then the administration, faculty and finally we, processed out, in our case back through the tunnel to Sondheim.

Moving back through the tunnel.

Breaking out of Sondheim Hall into the cold air and bright sunshine.

Once outside, the challenge became finding one's family amidst the crush of people.

True Grit was a convenient place to tell your people to meet you.

After my family finally fought their way through to me, I posed for my UMBC portrait:

True Grit & Me

After getting my picture taken, we gathered for a celebratory lunch. By the time I got home, I already had an email from the professional photographer, offering to sell me a package of photos for $80 or perhaps $150; I could also purchase a DVD for $45. I expect to soon receive my first fundraising letter; that’s when I’ll know for sure that I’ve graduated.

The Christmas Blizzard of 2009 at UMBC – A Pictorial

This weekend’s major snow event buried UMBC – but not so much as to keep campus from opening. Here are some images from this morning:

This is what I woke up to Sunday morning:

It’s Christmastime at UMBC! (A Pictorial Essay)

And you thought it was the Christmas season!

Outside of the Math Psychology Building

In the lobby of the RAC

At the Commons

Outside the University Center

Seen all over campus

The UMBC Bookstore:

The Yum Shoppe

The College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences - 1st Floor UC

Through the window of the ELC

A successful 2009 Maryland Charity Campaign

At the Skylight Lounge:

The OIT Help Desk Christmas Party:

Winter Commencement, Regalia and The Mad Scramble for Graduation Tickets

In less than two weeks, I will publicly receive my undergraduate degree in History from UMBC. I officially graduated in August, and my diploma came in the mail in October, so, yes, to some degree (no pun intended), this event will be anti-climactic.

Still, I figured, why pass up a chance to celebrate one last time? It’s also a celebration for my wife and children, who had to endure the not-so-slight inconvenience of Dad returning to college. After a day of teaching History at Cardinal Gibbons School, rather than return home, I would head to UMBC for class. For me, taking classes was, for the most part, a blast. I loved my History classes, enjoyed my other Humanities classes and tolerated well the other GFRs. For them, it was a family often short one person.

Because they shared in my burden, it’s important that my wife and three children also share in the public culmination of that achievement. I would’ve liked for my parents to have been there also, but my father died seven years ago, and my mother’s back won’t allow her to sit through the ceremony (we’ll pick her up afterwards for the big-deal restaurant lunch we have planned). My mother-in-law, who I am very close to, also wants to be there, and I’d like her to be there too. This, however, is a problem.

If your commencement from UMBC is this Spring, it will be held at the 1st Mariner Arena (capacity 13,500). If your commencement is in December, it will be held in the Retriever Activities Center (capacity 4,000). This disparity in available seating creates a scarcity in graduation tickets, with each graduate receiving four tickets only. If you were doing the math one paragraph above, you now know my dilemma. I need one more ticket. (The university offers overflow seating in Lecture Hall III, where those voted off the island will have to watch by closed-circuit broadcast, but this is hardly an acceptable option for just one family member.)

The four tickets I was issued

Obviously, I’m not the only person with this problem. Apparently there are so many graduates looking for tickets that the university has set up a bulletin board outside of the Bookstore. Here you can pin your desperate plea for extra tickets, in much the same way that prayers are inserted in the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The Board of Faint Hopes

That's mine, right under the sign

(If anyone knows a December graduate with a ticket to spare looking to make an easy $20, please let me know.)

Also, I get a commencement pass of my own:

Front

Back

Another part of the commencement experience is the regalia. The regalia I’ve been given comes with a long black gown, a gold sash (signifying that I’m graduating with Honors), a tassel and a really strange cap. I’ve already tried on the cap at home, and there’s absolutely no way I can wear this cap without looking like a twit. I can’t figure out how the tassel is attached, or where it hangs.  As you can tell, I’ve never worn regalia.

My sixteen-year-old son Zachary is an excellent amateur photographer (he’s been published in multiple newspapers) and he’ll be bringing his good camera to the ceremony. I’ll also make my guests patiently wait so that I can have my picture taken with True Grit. (Again, how many times in my life will I get to do this?)

After that, we’ll head to my car (I’ll use student parking, since I have a student pass due to my Graduate Student status), pick up my mother and then it’s off to The Olive Grove in Linthicum, which has become the traditional celebratory restaurant for our family.

While we’re there, I’ll be preoccupied examining the digital photos on Zachary’s camera to see how idiotic I looked in that funky cap.

UMBC Slogan Contest Analysis

First a new mascot, now a new slogan!

The good folks at Project Black and Gold have selected eight candidates (out of 137 submissions) for us to vote on at MyUMBC. They are:

  • “Be Proud, Be Bold, Be Black and Gold”
  • “Black and Gold, Breaking the Mold”
  • “Great Dogs Aren’t Just Born, They’re Bred”
  • “In Dog Years, We’re almost 200!”
  • “Raise The Ruff!”
  • “Retrievers, Ruff and Ready!”
  • “UMBC: Where Every Dog Has Its Day”
  • “Woof!”

In examining this group, it seems as if there was a definite push amongst the judges to make the slogan somehow dog-centric – six of the eight possibilities make a canine reference. Let’s examine these first.

1. “Great Dogs Aren’t Just Born, They’re Bred” – This one sounds promising, except that I’m not exactly sure what it means. Isn’t breeding the process by which puppies are born? I guess the point here is that we (great dogs) are not the result of random dog fornication, but rather a carefully coordinated reproductive effort to produce a purebred offspring. I don’t know about you, but this slogan makes me feel uncomfortable in mixed company. Pass.

2. “In Dog Years, We’re almost 200!” – I’m confused. Isn’t UMBC over 40 years old? And aren’t dog years seven times human years? Doesn’t that make us about 300 in dog years? In any event, this attempt is cute, but certainly not slogan-worthy.

3. “Raise The Ruff!” – Another cutesy dog reference. This might be nice on a poster at a basketball game, but it’s  too lightweight to be the entire campus’ slogan. Also, it’s almost exclusively a sports slogan. Do we really want to “raise the ruff” in engineering?

4. “Retrievers, Ruff and Ready!” – Again with the “ruff” reference. I like the alliteration, but I can’t get by my childhood memories of “Ruff and Reddy,” a no-frills 1960s cartoon that, in reruns, was a staple of “Cartoon Carnival.” It was about a dog (Reddy) and a cat (Ruff) who had adventures together for a season or two. One thing I remember clearly about the show was that the dog was a moron, which taints my view of this slogan. The best part of “Ruff and Reddy” by far was the catchy theme song.

5. “UMBC: Where Every Dog Has Its Day” – In this slogan, it is insinuated that even hapless losers can succeed at UMBC. Pass.

6. “Woof!” – Really? That’s it? Our university is to be represented by an onomatopoeia -in this case, the sound a dog makes when it wants to go outside to urinate? Really? I think not.

Having worked our way through the six canine slogans, we are left with the two more generic slogans:

7. “Black and Gold, Breaking the Mold” – I like the rhyming, and I like the idea that UMBC is unique. I could live with this, I’m just not sure that it says enough.

8.  “Be Proud, Be Bold, Be Black and Gold” – Of all of the candidates, this is the one I like the most. It doesn’t just rhyme, it actually comes with its own rhythm. It also urges us to take positive action, and it identifies those actions as emblematic of the Black and Gold. It’s versatile enough to be applied to any university activity, but it could also work as a chant in the RAC on game day. I can even see variations on tee shirts and hoodies. “Proud. Bold. Black & Gold.” Nice.

Voting is on MyUMBC until December 18.