When I think about that Thursday evening of finals week a couple of weeks ago it brings a smile to my face. It was vintage Saint John's. Twenty-four hours earlier many teammates, classmates and other friends of Carter Hanson had gathered at Sal's in St. Joe to watch the live-stream ceremony of the Gagliardi Trophy presentation in Salem, VA. They were pulling for their guy, Carter, who was one of four Gagliardi Trophy finalists and who, just one week earlier, was in New York City as a finalist for the equally prestigious William V. Campbell Trophy sponsored by the National Football Foundation.
The Gagliardi Trophy finalists were recognized as the best players in NCAA Division III football, but they were also selected for their commitment to academics and community service. When it was announced that Carter had won the Gagliardi Trophy, a spontaneous celebration began. But it was not the kind of celebration one might expect. Planning was immediately underway for a surprise “welcome home” for Carter the following night. The groundswell for it came from his teammates and other Johnnies and Bennies. After all, he was only the third Johnnie in history to win the Gagliardi Trophy, following in the footsteps of Chris Palmer in 1995 and Blake Elliott in 2003.
About the time that Carter was concluding his acceptance remarks in Salem I received a text from one of the coaches asking if a few of us from the advancement office would join them at Sal's for the 7:45 p.m. surprise homecoming on Thursday night. I didn’t hesitate. Among his many volunteer commitments, Carter currently serves as his senior class gift chair. He is an exceptionally gifted leader who is helping to inspire others in the Class of 2017 to join in making gifts for the Saint John's Student Fund. His example speaks volumes as he already gives back to alma mater for the benefit of current and future Johnnies.
When we arrived at about 7:15 on Thursday night a large group of students had gathered and the chatter was all about Carter and the surprise. It was an impressive crowd, considering that it was finals week and exams were looming. When word suddenly spread that Carter’s arrival would be delayed until about 9:30, something unexpected happened. A group of seniors left for a few minutes and returned with their books in hand. Not wanting to risk missing Carter’s entrance, they settled at a couple of tables nearby and I watched them study for the next 90 minutes. It was remarkable.
At that moment it dawned on me that the students were proud of Carter not only because of his extraordinary accomplishment, but also because of what winning the Gagliardi Trophy represents. In Carter’s acceptance remarks he said, “His [John Gagliardi's] mission was to bring boys from high school and turn them into great men on the field, in the community and in the classroom. With what he's done for Saint John's and this award, it's incredibly humbling and honoring to accept it." For a guy who was repeatedly told that he was too small, too short and too slow, Carter came up big. He gets it, and I believe that for this generation of Johnnies and Bennies, bringing this trophy home is symbolic of something much larger and much more significant.
In many respects it represents all that is so special about Saint John's and Saint Ben's. We are blessed with young men and young women equally committed to excellence in the classroom, in extracurricular activities and in service to others. They believe it, they live it and they are proud of it. Most importantly they respect one another and they care deeply for one another. What I observed that night is that they genuinely share one another’s goals, successes, dreams and aspirations. It was awesome to witness the spirit in the place when Carter walked through that door. The shouts and laughter were loud and the smiles were contagious. The camaraderie, the hugs -- it was all there.
It was extra special that Carter was welcomed home by a community of teammates, classmates, coaches and friends. And it was done with class in a setting where classes are typically forgotten, at least for the moment. Not on this night.