Beginnings and endings

We had our spring commencement ceremonies at the university yesterday. Another school year is complete. Another set of students is moving on to the next chapter of their lives.

My thoughts on the day haven’t changed since I wrote a post about it last spring. If anything, my admiration and attachment to the day and to the graduating students only grows deeper with each passing year.

No doubt, yesterday’s ceremonies will live in the memories of those who were there for quite a while. The keynote speaker in the first ceremony, the owner of an area advertising firm, gave arguably the most memorable commencement address ever and coined the term “crap-your-pants, or CYP, moments.” Not surprisingly #CYP has shown up in many commencement-related tweets since the address. You can listen to it here. … For our second ceremony, the governor attended and gave the address, which was predictably more polished and safe.

This spring’s graduation day was particularly special to me because it was full of students I have had the pleasure of watching grow and mature more than those students I’ve watched graduate before them. This year’s graduates were in their sophomore years when I arrived on campus. When I arrived almost three years ago, I renewed my connections with the journalism school, but I also quickly built some new connections with the public relations students. I still remember one of those first PR courses I visited to share my experiences, and I can picture Dillon, Angela and Ashley -- three of the students I’m most proud of this weekend -- sitting at their tables, taking it in. I would hire Dillon as my first summer intern a few weeks later, and Ashley and Angela spent time working in our office, too. All three have done and will continue to do some amazing things.

It’s having the opportunity to mentor students like them and see them succeed that makes my work so worthwhile.     

* * *

During my senior year of college, my roommate, John, and I lived on the second floor of a run-down apartment house. …

We ran into a situation in which we needed to find a place fast. We found three options, and the place we took was the best, by far. I’ll never forget at one of the other options how we walked up a staircase to an open front door and stepped into an apartment with a floor that was covered in trash and a cat was running out.

Nevertheless, John and I settled into the new place and created a lot of memories there. We thought we could be dog owners, which lasted seven months until we gave the dog away. We watched the horrors of Sept. 11 unfold on our TV set in the kitchen. We experienced a fair share of freezing winter nights and boiling summer days in the place, and also repaired a number of blown fuses. We hosted parties with our journalism cohorts. Even our wives can tell stories about the place as both spent a few nights there.

And no reflection about The Old Apartment would be complete without the mice. The last few weeks we spent there, with our college graduation nearing, it became very apparent that we had a family of mice living among us. So we set traps and did our best to corral them. …

I’ll never forget the morning after our graduation. As Kates and I awoke we could hear this strange clinking noise coming from John’s bedroom next door. And when I peeked inside his door, there was mouse, one foot pinned in a trap, trying to cross the floor, dragging the trap behind him. By the time I spotted him, he was just a couple feet in front of John’s bed. I was going to try to sneak in and take care of the mouse before John woke, but John opened his eyes, saw the mouse and nearly hit the ceiling as he screamed in fear. I can still picture it like it happened yesterday, and it still makes me laugh out loud.

I also remember that night. John had moved out and left town. My boxes were packed and I was ready to head back to Wisconsin with my family the next morning. I was spending one last night in The Old Apartment, and as I sat watching TV in the kitchen I watched a mouse crawl up through the floor vent just a few feet away from me. It came up, sniffed around a little bit and then went back down through the vent. I didn’t event flinch, and at that point it was just amusing more than anything. I didn’t care, knowing I’d be gone the next day. Never knowing when, or even if, I’d ever return.

The point of sharing these memories is because I did return to The ’Ville, and -- to my amazement -- the apartment still stood all these years later. Although I’m fairly certain John and I were the last people to live there 11 years ago.

For 2 ½ years, I’ve driven past the place about once a week, sometimes chuckling at the eyesore and sometimes cringing at the fact that the city let it stand so long.

Then, last week, an article appeared in the local newspaper that a property owner who owned more than a half-dozen condemned properties in town was finally tearing them down. The article didn’t specifically mention The Old Apartment, but I had a feeling it’s time had come. I had hoped to witness it in person.

On Friday night, The Old Apartment was gone. I learned of it when a friend posted a photo of the demolition on Facebook, tagging John and I with, “Didn’t you used to live here?”

We did. And it was full of good times.

Today, our memories are buried in a pile of rubble.

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