Longwood Makes Dad's Dream Come True
Published 5:44 pm Thursday, May 8, 2014
FARMVILLE — Bob Inge is dying.
On Monday, he lived one of the greatest, most meaningful days of his life.
The Crewe resident has stage-four lung cancer and just days left to live.
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Inge’s last wish was to see his daughter Brittany graduate from college.
Longwood University, where she was scheduled to receive her diploma this coming Saturday, made sure that dream came true.
Five days before the university’s commencement exercise, that wish became reality.
A special commencement ceremony was held in the Rotunda, with President W. Taylor Reveley IV speaking.
“Tears, man,” Inge told The Herald on Tuesday, describing the feelings that welled up from his heart into his eyes as he saw his daughter receive her diploma. “Tears of joy. I lived long enough to see it.”
There were severe doubts he would ever live to see the day, even before lung cancer. In 1995, Inge had melanoma.
“That was scary because the kids were young. This,” he said, referring to his lung cancer, “I knew I had them over the threshold, anyway, but to get this close and not be able to see them graduate would have been a tear-jerker.”
Tears were not jerked with pain or loss on Monday.
The tears were inarticulate expressions of joy, of humanity, of compassion, a moment of grace shared.
And Inge’s tears did not flow alone.
Tears filled other eyes.
Tears ran down many cheeks.
“The president, even at the ceremony yesterday after he gave a speech and everything, he was even crying,” Brittany told the newspaper during the same Tuesday telephone interview, “and telling me congratulations. It just felt like these people knew me personally, even though I’ve never really met them.”
They may not have met until Monday, but Brittany and her father had fallen into their hearts on Friday when they became aware of Bob’s days left on Earth and Brittany’s May 10 graduation.
Top administration officials worked quickly to contact Brittany, ask her if she wanted an early graduation for her and her family and then held that ceremony three days later.
President Reveley described the moment as “Longwood true to its essence.”
While Longwood University Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Ken Perkins, was telling a reporter the story the journalist mentioned feeling tears in his eyes as he listened to Perkins’ words.
“We’ve been tearful. I’m trying to control my emotions, too, as I’m talking to you,” said Perkins, who coordinated the arrangements for Monday’s graduation ceremony.
The tears from the heart are easily understood.
Inge said he had waited “all her life” to see Brittany graduate.
But would all of his life be long enough?
“I promised both of my children when they were growing up that I would make sure they got a college degree,” Inge said. “My oldest one graduated six years ago. And now I’ve got this one just graduated…I’m very blessed.”
Brittany, who earned education degrees from Longwood and seeks a teaching position, described what the university did as “absolutely amazing…I was not expecting it at all.”
What makes it even more special is that Inge is also a Longwood graduate, earning his degree in 1979, something university officials were unaware of until Monday.
“I didn’t know that he was a Longwood graduate,” Perkins said. “I didn’t know that until yesterday morning when somebody whispered it to me. And, I thought, My gosh. I tell you, Brittany, she was so, she was so happy to have her Dad here.”
Perkins describes Inge, who attended the ceremony in a wheelchair and on oxygen, as being “in good spirits and a remarkable person, remarkable person, deeply appreciative of what we did.”
Inge’s appreciation is wide enough to fill the sky with stars.
“To have a college as big as Longwood’s gotten, to have a college go out of its way to make sure one of its students has their dad there, is unbelievable,” Inge said. “They (doctors) gave me days, not weeks, to live so my goal was to make it to Saturday (the regular commencement ceremony).
“…The main goal in my life,” Brittany’s father continued, “was to see her graduate. So (Longwood) made that come true and I am so thankful…and the family’s thankful. We’ve all been blessed.”
Everyone in attendance felt the blessing in and around them and through each other to one another.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of people look more emotional at Longwood, and that includes all of the Longwood people, including me and the president and the rector and everybody else,” Perkins said. “And it was such a positive moment, it was a positive moment and…”
And a moment that those in attendance will carry around inside them for the rest of their lives.
“Oh, yeah,” Perkins said. “Oh, yeah.”
Other Longwood officials involved in the planning, and in attendance, were Board of Visitors Rector, Marianne Radcliff, along with Charles Ross, Dean of the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences, and the university’s registrar, Vikki Levine.
“It was Longwood,” Inge said, and one could hear him shaking his head in wonder. “I am shocked and amazed and feel very blessed that we picked the right college, not only for the education but also for the humanity. You won’t see this in most colleges. At most colleges, you’re just a number and this puts Longwood way above numbers.”
President Reveley told The Herald that “When we learned about this late Friday, the provost, the dean, the registrar, the rector and I, along with several others, all, without hesitation, decided we would make this happen however we could, and it was especially beautiful to conduct the ceremony in the Rotunda, with Joan of Arc watching over us.”
Perkins said, “We knew we had to do this. We wanted to do this…”
Perkins learned on Friday, May 2, that there was a Longwood senior set to graduate on May 10 whose father had been told he had days left to live.
LU’s provost was given no name, so that HIPAA patient privacy laws would not be violated, but Perkins said he was given “enough information that I was able to piece together who the student might be. He never told me the name but he gave me enough information that I could ferret out who the student might be.”
A phone call was made.
An email was sent.
“I am Ken Perkins, the Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs. I understand your dad is not well at all. A little bird, so to speak, suggested that I consider a small, private ceremony in your home, very soon so that we can award you a symbolic diploma,” Perkins wrote in the email.
“I am more than willing to come to your dad’s home, and bring with me the dean and registrar, dressed in our regalia and present this to you in front of your family.
“Are you interested in any of this?”
She was “amazed.”
After further communication made it clear a ceremony at Longwood, rather than in the Inge home, would make the moment even more special that is precisely what the university arranged and provided.
“Brittany said, ‘I think he can come to Longwood. He wants to come to Longwood,’” Perkins recalls. “So over the weekend we had discussions about how many (could attend). Because there is a limit for the typical graduate; I think it’s 10 people that they can invite. We were going to have this in the president’s office. We thought it would be the best place to have the little ceremony. And then we thought maybe the Rotunda is the area and so when we hit on that I told Brittany, bring everybody that she wanted to bring.”
Approximately 15 family members attended, along with half a dozen additional Longwood staffers who knew the Inges.
“We tried to have a balance between intimacy and a little bit of formality in that the words we spoke were basically what we took from the regular graduation script,” Perkins said of the ceremony which saw the plans for a symbolic diploma ditched and the genuine diploma Brittany had earned awarded to her.
“We actually got her the real thing (diploma),” Perkins said. “We got that done through our print shop. So she’s finished, she’s graduated.”
Brittany has commenced.
Commencement is defined as the awarding of degrees.
On Saturday, the formal degree giving will unfold, a huge crowd of students and family members filling Wheeler Mall.
A parade processional of faculty in fancy dress.
Pomp and circumstance.
A United States Senator will deliver the commencement address.
Former governor Mark Warner offering those graduation insights and inspirations.
It will be an event.
It will be the biggest commencement ceremony at Longwood this month.
But it will not be the first.
Nor will it be the one with deepest meaning.
Commencement is also defined as a beginning, a start.
Yes, Bob Inge is dying.
And on Monday he lived one of the greatest, most meaningful days of his life.
He was not alone.