Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Very Special Grad

There is no other day of the year at Princeton University that is remotely like Graduation Day.

The day starts out with incredible energy on campus. There are swarms of people, pretty much all divided into two camps.

There are those who are in caps and gowns, and there are those who are watching them, bursting with pride that their son/daughter/grandchild/whatever is really graduating from the No. 1 university in the country, if not the world.

Degrees were given to 1,291 undergraduates and 906 graduate students yesterday, the culmination of something that probably seemed fairly daunting at one point. How will I write my thesis? How will I ever get everything done?

Yesterday? It was a celebration of great accomplishment.

And then, by mid-afternoon or so, the campus is deserted. Empty.

Everyone has packed up and gone to wherever it is they're going. The "I go to Princeton" is replaced in one day with "I went to Princeton."

It's a bit overwhelming.

TigerBlog remembers when he graduated from college. It was the only time in his life he had absolutely nothing schedule, absolutely nothing he had to do.

His life could have gone in any number of directions at that point. He had several career paths in mind. He chose the one that has enabled him to basically turn his back on his alma mater in favor of its biggest rival, but hey, not everybody goes down that road.

The graduation of the Class of 2016 also brought with it the end of the undergraduate days of approximately 200 or so varsity athletes. They have left quite a mark on Princeton, as has been detailed here a bunch of times, so why do it again?

Ah, why not. It was Graduation Day, right?

How about 46 league championships, 151 All-Ivy League selections and 14 All-America selections. This year alone Princeton won 14 Ivy titles and 15 league titles (counting men's water polo).

In fact, there are still Princeton athletes who will be competing. It dawned on TigerBlog that some fall athletes compete before their first class, while other spring athletes compete even after graduation.

The baseball team will be heading out to Louisiana for NCAA tournament today. There will be the IRA rowing championships this weekend in West Windsor. There will be NCAA track and field next week in Oregon.

Yesterday, though, was about graduation.

TigerBlog can talk to you about any number of athletes who were handed diplomas yesterday. He watched a lot of them play these last four years, which to them must have been gone in the blink of their eyes.

Really, though, when he thought of all those who graduated yesterday, he thought mostly of one of them. He was an athlete who hasn't competed here since most of those who graduated yesterday were in high school.

There were times when it seemed impossible that he would ever reach Nassau Hall in a cap and gown. The obstacles he had to overcome were extraordinary, not like those of anyone else who was there yesterday - or ever before, TigerBlog supposes.

Had things gone according to plan, he would have been in the Class of 2015. When his name appeared in the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Senior Awards program, it would have been followed by as many lines of accomplishments as any other athlete.

As it turned out, his career ended four years. Playing career, that is.

TigerBlog speaks of course about Chuck Dibilio. His story was familiar to Princeton fans before John Bullis put together his fantastic documentary "When The Game Ends" last fall.

The movie chronicled Dibilio's rise at Princeton as a record-setting running back his freshman year, when he vaulted over 1,000 yards, becoming the only true freshman in league history to do so. And then, before first-semester finals, he suffered a stroke.

At 19 years old.

The road back wasn't easy. Dibilio had to learn simple speech and reading over again, let alone return to any college, let alone Princeton. He would do it in a year.

At the same time, he wanted to play football again, something that he wouldn't be able to do, as it turned out.

In the end, he found peace. And found an outlet - CrossFit, which helped him satisfy his competitive, physical side.

TigerBlog had never met him prior to the start of work on the documentary. He found him to be friendly, happy, strong - not at all bitter. He was a young man who had been through a lot, but you couldn't tell any of that from speaking to him. 

And yesterday, after all of this time, he graduated from Princeton.

His mother, a medical doctor, said in "When The Game Ends" that she would be "one proud mama" when her son graduated. TigerBlog thought about that comment yesterday, when Dibilio became a Princeton alum.

As TigerBlog said, the campus gets eerily deserted on Graduation Day. The University that welcomes them in and nurtures them for four years spits them out, sending them on their ways. It's almost like one of those nature shows, though in this case, the University is the living being.

This happens each year.

This time it was a little different. Chuck Dibilio graduated with the Class of 2016.

It's possible no Princeton grad ever had to go through more to make it happen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Outstanding blog today about Chuck Dibilio that brought tears to my eyes