These are spectacular days to commence, and there are commencements everywhere.
On Sunday, at Framingham State, a great kid from Marshfield named Rob Wheeler picked up his diploma, and watching from the audience was a guy named Ron Brassard, whose life Wheeler saved on Patriots Day when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line.
Farther down Route 9, in Chestnut Hill, a pair of marvelous young women named Brittany Loring and Liza Cherney were among the 4,400 graduates at Boston College Monday. Loring and Cherney were badly hurt by the Patriots Day bombs but they never wavered and finished their schoolwork. Both picked up their MBAs from the Carroll Graduate School of Management at BC.
Brittany even managed to pick up her law degree at BC on Monday, too. What a lady.
Even the protesters who picketed BC’s decision to give an honorary degree to Enda Kenny, Ireland’s prime minister, were in good form, protesting respectfully out on Beacon Street. Free speech looks even better on a sunny commencement day.
But, for my money, one of the best commencement stories comes from the New England College of Optometry in the Back Bay. One of the people who graduated from there Sunday is a young man from Portsmouth, N.H., named Nick Jones, and his story is one everybody should know.
In January 2012, Jones was skiing in Maine with other students when his snowboard hit a tree. He broke his jaw and ribs, perforated his liver, punctured a lung, broke his hip, reduced his pelvis to mush, and hit his face so hard that his eye dropped into his sinus cavity.
The EMTs who choppered Jones to the Maine Medical Center thought he was dead when they first got to him and didn’t think he’d make it to the hospital.
One of the kids with Jones that day was his good pal Petar Prpic, head of the college’s Student Council. He made three phone calls after Nick Jones hit that tree. The first one was to 911. The second one was to Jones’s family. And the third one was to college president Cliff Scott, who has got to be the only president of any college anywhere whom everybody just calls Scotty.
Scotty Scott told Prpic that the college would take care of Jones, no matter what.
When he was conscious enough to worry about such things, Jones’s biggest concern was his Air Force scholarship. If he couldn’t keep his GPA up, he’d lose the scholarship.
Prpic and Jones’s other college buddy, Jeff MacAlear, had an idea. As Jones recovered, first in Maine, then at Brigham and Women’s, and finally at Spaulding Rehab, Prpic and MacAlear went to all his classes, taking notes, then went to the hospital and went through the work with Jones. At first, Jones could communicate only by using an iPad.
Scotty Scott worried that they were asking too much, but Jones’s father, Grant, reassured him. “You don’t know Nick,” Grant Jones said. “He’ll be back.”
At Spaulding, therapists told Nick Jones they’d release him when he could climb three sets of stairs unassisted and figured it would take at least three weeks of therapy. Nick Jones did it in three days.
When Jones was finally able to walk back into school, on crutches, on Valentine’s Day 2012, some 200 people, students and teachers and administrators, lined four stories of the grand spiral staircase at the college’s rotunda and cheered wildly.
The crowd demanded a speech, so Jones took a bullhorn from Prpic and deadpanned, “Get back to class.”
Scotty Scott usually hands out the college’s Presidential Medal to acknowledge lifetime achievement. But on Sunday at John Hancock Hall he handed three of them to three young men: Nick Jones, Petar Prpic, and Jeff MacAlear. Like Valentine’s Day last year, everybody went crazy.
Nick Jones will move to active duty as an Air Force captain, but he and his pals have already touched the clouds, and the rest of us.