Already recognized with the honor for Order of the British Empire, former Penn State basketball standout John Amaechi ’94 has now been recognized with a tradition that was once used in the Middle Ages and Victorian Era to enable members of a Guild or Livery to carry out their trade or craft within the city’s square mile. Amaechi, earlier this month, was presented with the Freedom of the City of London, an honor that dates back to 1237 and is one of the oldest, surviving traditional ceremonies in the City of London.
The honor was bestowed upon Amaechi, who spent time with three NBA teams, for his work since retiring from the game to foster and promote diversity. The former Penn State center won acclaim eight years ago, when he came out as the first openly gay NBA player. His rather impressive resume also includes a doctorate in psychology, campaigning for human rights and LGBT issues, and working with at-risk youth.
Past recipients of the award include Nelson Mandela, actor Morgan Freeman and BBC journalist Fiona Bruce.
Amaechi, who responded via Facebook, kept the award in perspective:
“The two most famous traditional privileges of being given the Freedom of the City of London are being able to herd my sheep across the bridges of London and that I can be drunk in public and will be escorted home for free by the authorities. I can only see one of those two being handy in the future!
“Nowadays the award is about service to one’s community and joining a network of people who are equally committed to making a better city, better country and a better world. I am honoured and further motivated to do more to fulfil these goals and I hope that the Penn State community, my professors, coaches, teammates, friends, fans and numerous ‘little brothers’ understand the part they’ve played in helping me become a person deemed worthy of recognition.”
We briefly mentioned The Anti-Hunger Games, a student organization that looks to help out those in the community who are hungry, in a sidebar to the feature on Neha Gupta in our July/Aug. ’15 issue which highlighted students and alumns from Schreyer Honors College doing cool philanthropic work. We only covered the tip of the iceberg on one of the great organizations at the university, which stemmed from a freshman honors seminar in 2013 and was formed by undergrad Eleanor Tsai.
Dr. Nichola Gutgold ’99 wrote about the group on her blog, which gave us some more insight into its formation. Here’s a quick look into what The Anti-Hunger Games have done recently:
For example, last year (2014-2015), our members volunteered at the Hearts for the Homeless shelter and baked goods to deliver to the people living in the shelter. We also hosted a Shaping the Future Summit event where representatives of local non-profits (including the regional chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the Youth Service Bureau, and downtown shelters) informed students about how their organizations addressed the needs in the area and how they could learn more about or take part in their efforts. Even as you read this, the AHG is forging partnerships with other clubs on campus with similar objectives to offer service opportunities from working at the food bank, to delivering dining hall leftovers or meals, to helping out with tasks on nearby farms.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
Penn State basketball fans will always hold a special place in their hearts for Tim Frazier ’13. Besides being a great athlete, he was a model student and an exceptional member of the Penn State community.
As it turns out, Frazier is also a spectacular dancer. He’s currently a member of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, and during a recent trip with a handful of teammates, Frazier started doing a dance that “has been the latest dance craze in Rip City.” It was recorded by one of Frazier’s teammates, and it involves Frazier sticking both of his arms out, curling in his thumb, middle, and ring fingers, and moving his arms in a circle while he shakes his head really fast.
The whole thing is delightfully silly, and we cannot recommend taking a minute to check out the Storify that the team put together of Frazier’s moves.
Bill DiFilippo, Online Editor
Our current cover story features Penn Staters who work in New York and national theatre. We thought it’d be cool to share a selection of performances by some of the folks we profiled.
Bowman ’10 is the leading lady in one of the biggest shows on Broadway, as she plays one of the co-leads in Wicked. There’s a chance that you’ve heard a performance of the show’s most well-know song, “Defying Gravity,” but if you’ve never heard Bowman perform it with her co-star, definitely give it a listen.
Another member of the class of 2010 is Wiggins, who currently has a role in the ensemble of the Tony Award-nominated Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. In the video above, Wiggins and fellow Penn Stater Laurie Veldheer ’10 perform the Broadway classic “Tonight” from West Side Story.
Audrey Cardwell/Adam Jepsen
Two of the younger Nittany Lions on stage are Audrey Cardwell ’12 and Adam Jepsen ’12. While the two aren’t performing together now±Cardwell is an ensemble player in the national tour of Cinderella while Jepsen is an ensemble player in Chicago—they took to the stage together back in 2012. Cardwell and Jepsen were joined by Dan Higgins ’12 for a performance of the song “Good Morning” from the film “Babes In Arms.”
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
The following story appears in our September/October 2015 issue.
There is no cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Researchers say life expectancy for those with ALS is about three to five years from the time of diagnosis, and only about 10 percent live longer than 10 years.
Those statistics don’t dim the optimism of Steve Smith ’87 H&HD, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2002. Today, at 51, he continues to live the best life he can with the help of his wife, Chie, and their two adult children, Dante and Jazmin. He says that resilience is a lesson he learned from his days at Penn State, where his skills at fullback helped the Nittany Lions to the 1986 national title.
“Coach Joe Paterno was a big part of why I am still living now,” Smith says via email (he breathes through a ventilator and is unable to speak). “He taught me if you don’t win every battle on the football field, you just keep fighting. He taught me that a four-yard gain is a good play, so I have been trying to get four to five yards every day of my life.”
But ALS has taken a toll. “He’s pretty much paralyzed,” says Chie Smith, who is with him most of the time in their suburban Dallas home. Smith is confined to bed or a wheelchair, and requires a feeding tube. The family prepares only organic food, processed in a blender. His ventilator requires a breathing tube in need of constant suctioning.
He passes his time watching TV, and occasionally the family will rent a van to accommodate all his equipment and take in a movie, one of his favorite activities. “The good movie was Jurassic World,” he says. And he relies on a computer to communicate, controlling it with facial twitches and eye movements. It allows him to “speak” to his family, type emails, even control home appliances and electronics. “It’s enabled him to just have some independence,” says Chie.
But the voice: it’s synthesized, doesn’t sound like him, and even cops an attitude at times. Like a male Siri speaking the right words, but maybe not using the proper tone or inflection. “The way it answers sometimes it sounds like it has a little bit of an attitude, so that can be kind of funny,” his wife says.
“At least it is male voice,” says Steve Smith. “Chie wanted to give me a female voice.”
B.J. Reyes, associate editor
As we wrote Monday, magician Randy (aka Ran’D) Shine ’93, ’96g appeared Monday night on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, tasked with pulling off a trick that the famed duo couldn’t figure out. Well, there’s a reason those guys are so famous. Most of the show’s guest magicians aren’t able to manage it, and despite a pretty convincing effort, Shine couldn’t quite do it, either.
Do check out the video, which offers a cool glimpse into Shine’s path to a career in magic, and also shows off his card trick. It sure fooled us.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Penn State’s Lunar Lion team’s quest to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition is over. The group, which graced the cover of our Nov./Dec. ’13 issue, had aspirations of winning the competition by landing a spacecraft on the moon by the end of this year. The hard work that began in 2011 is not for naught, as the group still plans on reaching the moon within the next decade.
The news was announced in a press release, today. No matter how long it takes, we’re excited to see the team make it to the moon one day.
Bill DiFilippo, Online Editor