Something’s been on my mind awhile, so I’ll share it as University Advancement’s first official blog post.
About a year ago, in time for commencement, I purchased a “flip” camera at the behest of the IT department that had been badgering me about the need for more dynamic content on the university’s web site. “We need more video,” they said. Never afraid of a challenge, I brought the new camera to a special tree planting ceremony in honor of the UMass Boston Charter Class of 1969′s late president, Michael Ventresca. Camera shaking and knuckles white trying to get the perfect stillness, I realized that the red “recording” light wasn’t lit. Ooooops. Beginner’s unluck? Fortunately, I captured some of the ceremony.
A few triumphs in a young videographer’s career later, the “flip” as it is known, became my soul mate. The stories I traditionally had word processed and illustrated with still images, were entirely lack luster next to those incorporating real live people talking about what matters to them. A new assignment surfaced: to interview a bequest donor about the motivations behind her gift for the Lampas Society (Planned Giving) Newsletter.
I didn’t think a member of the Boston State Teachers College Class of 1958 would be so hot on new media or have any willingness to be a part of the YouTube generation, no matter how excited I was about my new toy and its power to make stories palpable. But I wanted desperately to video tape the donor, Mary T. Mroz and so tucked my flip and a small tripod in my briefcase.
All bets were off when I arrived at her Burlington ranch and she answered the door in her pink bathrobe and slippers. O.k., this is going to be a traditional interview. That’s o.k. I saw her plastic covered Corona typewriter on her desk. No, there was no “high-tech” here. “I’ll stick to the notepad.”
But as we started talking over the plate of Italian biscotti she had set out she told me remarkable stories about her Italian immigrant family’s gas station in North Cambridge and how, were it not for Boston State, she would have begun and ended her career there. But instead, through the gift of education she received for about $200 a semester, Mary fell in love with learning and devoted her life to the Cambridge Public Schools for over 40 years as a teacher and principal. She mentored generations of students from all walks by igniting in them a passion for education.
I’d bitten into only half of a biscotti and I was almost in tears. This was too good. These stories too powerful. “I have got to get this on video!,” I said to myself. So I found the courage to ask, — and Mary’s one of those tough love types — “I have this little video camera in my bag . . . would you mind if I filmed our conversation . . . what you are saying is so interesting and I’d love to make a movie. “A movie,” she guffawed. At least I tried, I thought. “Well I’m hardly dressed for that,” she said as she got up to get changed. Five minutes later, with red lipstick and a sweater to match (and a string of pearls), Mary was ready for the movies.
Our recorded conversation stretched into nearly two hours — until my batteries died — and we talked about her life of service to the kids of Cambridge and how the values instilled in her at Boston State Teachers College fueled the charisma she injected into her teaching through both the tough and triumphing times. A passion for learning, respect for all persons, and a sense of humor got her through and got through to generations of kids.
Returning home to the university , I made a video of Mary, finding it hard to choose the best parts, but ultimately proud of my creation which was made for Reflecting Possibility, University Advancement’s Report for 2010. Eager to share it with Mary, I decided to wait until I returned from a long awaited trip to Paris. But when I got home it was too late. My colleague shared that Mary was found dead in her home the day earlier.
Stunned, I thought, wow. I was one of the last people who talked to Mary about what really mattered to her. I was privileged to share a sunny autumn morning with her as she traversed the path of her life and reveled in her accomplishments. I was honored to see in one woman the life of service that her UMass Boston education had inspired benefitting decades of children in Cambridge. Mary is one of many Boston State Teachers College graduates — mostly women — who took the gift of education and truly made a life of it. For two precious hours I allowed Mary to deliver her own eulogy. And now we can share it with the world through film — all because I took the risk to ask, “would you mind . . .” The video– Time to Give Back: Mary T. Mroz ’58
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Nan Cormier is director of advancement communications