Woke up to some hard news about half an hour ago, when I learned that one of my first students died last night. I taught Joey Couch at the University of Kentucky, and I wasn’t much older than my students back then. I was one of the youngest in my class of T.A.s, a 21-year-old teaching 18- and 19-year-olds. Joey was a football player from Paintsville, a town in Eastern Kentucky that would play a significant role in my life a few years later, after I met Mrs. M. He was a lineman, even though he was smaller than me, and I suppose he must have been one of those guys who could throw a switch when he stepped onto the field, because he was the nicest, most affable kid I could have hoped for.
I don’t remember what grade he earned in my Freshman Comp class, but I suspect it was reasonably good — if I recall correctly, his mom was a teacher, and he stood out in the class for his hard work, among other reasons. My friend Dennis came down to visit at some point that term, and sat in on my class. Later, he asked me, “Who was that one guy who was sitting in the front, and talked to you after class?”
“Oh, that was Joey.”
“He has the biggest hands I’ve ever seen.” And he did — I think the guy could have palmed an anvil.
We’d run into each other occasionally on campus after that, and even as he became one of the better players in the SEC, he never showed any sign of a big head. He had a brief stab at the pros — arena ball, I think — before injuries led him to get on with his life’s work back in his hometown. We reconnected via the Book of Faces a couple of years ago, and he was enjoying his life with a wife and two sons, with a job in the insurance business. He died last night of a heart attack.
Goodbye, Joey. You were a good student and a good guy. The world is a little smaller without you in it.
We had our winter commencement exercise the other day, and one of our majors got her ticket to the big show — congratulations, Jaima! We’re proud of you. The ceremony was marred, however, by some indecorous behavior on the part of some of the graduates.
Winter commencement takes place in the college chapel, which holds about 800 people. The graduates cross the presbytery, where they are hooded and given their diplomas. They shake hands with the President, and then proceed down the center aisle to their seats in the pews as the next person’s name is called and the process begins anew.
This year, a number of the grads decided to engage in elaborately choreographed dancing and chanting as they moved down the aisle. Had it been a football game, they would have been flagged for excessive celebration. This was cheesy enough, but it was compounded by the fact that as they were cavorting (or “acting a fool”, as my grandparents would have said), other kids were taking the walk, and the commotion in the aisle (including their friends and family cheering them on) was a distraction from the business going on “on stage”.
I get that we have a lot of first-generation kids, and that getting the degree is a real achievement, both for the students and their families. It should be celebrated. But the time and place that these grads chose for their self-congratulatory performances was indecorous, and worse, inconsiderate. I’m not sure how the administration will attempt to deal with this in future, but I hope they come up with something.
And speaking of semester’s end, the Spawn managed to finish the term on the Dean’s List again, and remains on course to graduate Magna (he said, knocking wood) in another year and a half. Mrs. M graduated Magna, and the Spawn doesn’t want her mom to have bragging rights, so she keeps punching. (The circumstances of my undergrad degree were sufficiently unorthodox that I don’t really know what my GPA was, although I’m reasonably sure it wouldn’t have qualified for any sort of honors. On the other hand, I find solace in the 4.0 I carried in my years at Ball State, and the fact that I did the dissertation in one year.)
So, kid, have I mentioned lately that I’m proud of you? I have? Well, I still am.
Well, I have some basketball games to attend this afternoon, and a few things to do before then, so I think I’ll close. But as is my habit, I’ll wrap things up with a bit of music. The Grip Weeds (named for John Lennon’s character in How I Won the War) are a band from New Jersey with their own take on psychedelic pop. This track came from their Summer of a Thousand Years album, which I discovered when I ran across the late, lamented Rainbow Quartz label in my years at Ball State. This is the album’s opener, “Save My Life.”
See you soon!