Friday, June 2, 2017

Finite Moments

Spencer Weisz laughed and Spencer Weisz got teary, and that's really what the night was about in a nutshell.

The occasion was the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Banquet, the 20th such banquet, held last night at the Grad College. TigerBlog has said before that the average temperature for these banquets has been 70, since it's either 90 or 50. Last night, it really was 70, and it's hard to imagine a more perfect night for a banquet.

Early on in the banquet, Spencer Weisz - the 2017 Ivy League men's basketball Player of the Year - appeared on the video screens. The idea was to find a Princeton senior athlete and have him or her compete against other senior athletes in different sports, and Weisz was the athlete chosen to be the centerpiece of the video.

He was the perfect choice. For starters, he's a really good all-around athlete, and the person in the video needed to be a good all-around athlete.

For another, he has the right personality for it. He is naturally funny, without forcing it, and he comes across well on camera. Actually, he'd make a really good broadcaster.

So there on the screens, with his fellow seniors watching, was Weisz. He fenced with Peter Pak. He dove with Lisa Li. He played golf with Alex Dombrowski. He played volleyball with Brittany Ptak and Cara Mattaliano. He faced-off against Zach Currier. Tried to hit a softball against Claire Klausner. Played soccer with Haley Chow and Tyler Lussi.

Oh, and he threw the hammer with Julia Ratcliffe.

It made for a really good final product, the abbreviated version of which was shown at the banquet and the longer version of which will be available on the webpage shortly. The audience seemed to like it. They certainly laughed enough.

Then, about an hour later, there was Weisz on the stage. He'd just won the Roper Trophy as the outstanding senior male athlete, and now he was speaking.

This time, he was getting emotional. He didn't exactly break down, but he came close. It was from the heart. There can be no way to doubt that.

And it was great.

He talked about coming to Princeton with doubts. He talked about the honor of wearing "Princeton" across his chest. He talked about how his coach, Mitch Henderson, pushed him to get the very best of him. He talked about his teammates and the other coaches and how much they meant to him. He talked about his parents and all of their support, saying he could literally count on one hand the number of games of his that they'd missed.

It was a great speech, especially given that it was being done in an impromptu fashion.

In many ways, he was speaking for every senior there. Yes, he was one of the big award winners, so he got the microphone. But all of the senior athletes there had a similar story to tell.

It breezes by, four years at Princeton. They go from names on a recruit release to the Grad College a few days before graduation in the blink of an eye.

They have their own experiences along the way, but they all came here with uncertainty, they all became part of a team, they all had a coach who pushed them, and now they all sat there balancing the emotions of the moment - the joy of graduating from a place like Princeton, coupled with the finality of knowing that a glorious chapter of their lives had ended.

What had Sam Gravitte called them earlier? Finite moments.

Gravitte, the ultra-talented men's lacrosse player/actor/singer, gave the keynote address for the athletes, and his speech spoke of those competing emotions of the moment. He spoke of looking out at his 40 teammates - brothers, he said - in the audience when he was on stage in the musical "Once" and how much it meant to him.

He also, though, talked about walking out onto the stage with his fellow cast members after the last performance, and talked about walking off Sherrerd Field after his last-ever practice. Those are finite moments, he said.

The connection to Princeton doesn't end this week, of course. As a reminder, there were the two alumni speakers, Frank Sowinksi (men's basketball) and Lori Dickerson Fouche (softball). And University president Chris Eisgruber, who gave a rousing congratulations to the athletes before he introduced Dickerson Fouche.

Weisz was one of six finalists for the Roper Trophy. There were 10 finalists for the von Kienbusch Award for the outstanding senior female athlete.

It was as good a lineup of 10 senior female athletes as Princeton has ever produced. TigerBlog has mentioned this before. This group included Olympians, national champions, All-Americas, leading scorers, Players of the Year, on and on.

The winner, though, was Ashleigh Johnson of the women's water polo team, the one at Princeton and the U.S. one that won a gold medal last summer at the Olympics. The idea that the other nine weren't the winner shows you just how incredible the field was, and the fact that the winner was fairly obvious shows you how incredible Johnson is.

Like Weisz, she spoke about her coach, Luis Nicolao, and how he convinced her that she had the ability to be an Olympian when she didn't believe it. She talked about her teammates and how much they had supported her, despite how hard she pushed them. She talked about her mother and the support she'd gotten from her.

It was another emotional moment, in a night of emotion that was the start of a few days of emotions.

There is something about real emotion. It can't be faked. It can't be hidden. It can't be ignored.

And there it was last night, on display.

Laughter. And a tear or two.

And the knowledge that they'd given their all as Princeton athletes, they'd built relationships that they'll have forever - and that now it was pretty much time to go their separate ways.

Finite moments.

Infinite memories.

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