One of the benefits of bringing up the literary rear of our Rotary meetings is the ability to savor unique moments before beginning the clumsy struggle to interpret them for you, the indulgent reader. Like a stubborn prospector left behind to sift an unpromising stream, your intrepid reporter revels in the chance to confront capacious, and often capricious, nature — what Bill Moyers called A World of Ideas — alone. No, he’s not a misanthrope, far from it. It’s just that when considering something truly impressive he can at times find solace in the solitary experience. For these moments underscore the limitations of words. Today’s meeting was such a moment.
On Wednesday, May 16, 2018, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor recognized, eulogized, and darn near canonized the academic achievements of its hardest-working proteges, the STRIVE students. President John asked Andy Dahlmann to open the ceremony with a speech; this Andy did in his usual self-effacing way, immediately emphasizing what this day meant to the students and to their parents: “Today we’re honoring their accomplishments. You can read the 4-Way Test in these students…Parents, your shepherding is almost done. I know, ‘senioritis’ is in full force, but in one more week they’re off to college.” He then thanked Jeannine Buchanan for the beautiful floral centerpieces. Andy made it plain that, for all concerned, this was a Plymouth Rock moment, a first step to independence, personal and professional fulfillment, and to a life worth living. In her Inspiration, Past President Patricia Garcia had prepared the ground for what was to come with a quote from Thoreau: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours….” She then read Edgar A. Guest’s poem, “It Couldn’t Be Done” — “…There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done/There are thousands to prophesy failure…Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing that ‘cannot be done,’ and you’ll do it.” All huzzas, applause, and other officious fireworks aside, what the members and guests were witnessing was the creation of productive American citizens.
More about the students and the ceremony later. Now we turn to another, but equally moving, commemoration.
SCOTT WESTERMAN, A REMEMBRANCE:
Patricia returned to the podium with Steve Schram. So began a memorable tribute to our beloved fellow-Rotarian. The following are excerpts from their invocations.
Steve: “Walter Scott Westerman, Jr. — what can you say that hasn’t been said, felt or appreciated about this wonderful man? All of us in the RCAA who knew Scott Westerman profoundly feel the loss of a generous gentlemen of high intelligence, and one of even greater humility and empathy. On any visit I shared with him, I left Glacier Hills recognizing that I am fortunate to know and have a friendship with this brilliant, caring and exceptional man. As has been said by so many, Scott always deflected attention or inquiries about himself to his interest in YOUR life, your family, your work…Even today we can feel the joy of Scott Westerman. He would be so pleased that our remembrance of him today coincides with the celebration of this year’s STRIVE program recipients. Many of you know that Scott Westerman was once the Superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools during the tumultuous years of the late 60s-early 1970s. That is how this salute to Scott relates to STRIVE…What a great privilege to have him with us until his 92nd year.”
Patricia: “Scott Westerman could light up a room with his smile — and make you feel like the most important person in the world. I was truly blessed by his kindness and friendship. I met Scott when he served on the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor Board during my tenure as President in 2002-2003. As John Ackenhusen and many Past Presidents can attest, it’s a challenging year, and as President you count on so many other Rotarians for support. Scott was always there for me with a smile and an encouraging word…I miss Scott and our special friendship — and wrote this poem in his honor:
“W. Scott Westerman Jr., the REAL Scott Westerman…
A man we all admired
A gentleman and a scholar,
He lived a life inspired
In his first year of college, Scott met the love of his life,
Ruth Marcine Percy would become his best friend and wife
Before the wedding, he served our nation.
They were, after all, ‘The Greatest Generation’.
Embracing their blessings ‘avec joie de vivre’,
Scott and Marcy were devoted to family.
On April 18, our beloved friend was gone.
His memories bring joy and his spirit lives on.
Scott Westerman’s accomplishments are legendary
He was truly extraordinary.
For a lifetime of service and humble dedication,
Scott deserves one final Rotary standing ovation.”
The assembly rose spontaneously, en bloc, and imparted to Scott all the gratitude the physical act of applauding can impart. For, as Patricia had said, “his memories bring joy and his spirit lives on.”
Joanne Pierson and Deanna Relyea then led us in impassioned song. And it was impassioned. First up was “The Impossible Dream,” Darion and Leigh’s anthem of 1965, known unofficially as the antechamber to “My Way.” Somehow, when singing the verse “To fight for the right, without question or pause/To be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause,” images of Lee Marvin, Sinatra, Eastwood, even Telly Savalas, came to mind. Also our Club’s membership generally. Come to think of it, it is the perfect Rotary song.
Next, Joanne belted out “I’m a Believer”. Written by Neil Diamond and recorded by The Monkeys in late 1966, “I’m a Believer” would go on to become the runaway hit single of 1967. Joanne had, of course, finessed the lyrics slightly to spotlight STRIVE:
“My GPA; now I’m a believer! Not a trace of doubt in my mind/I will STRIVE ‘cuz I’m a believer.”
President John then regained the podium and greeted all Rotarians and guests. Among the guests were Meera Talwar, an Ann Arbor resident and friend of Past President Ashish and Norma Sarkar. B. Dawson was also present, which generated special commendation from John for his “stellar attendance.” John also informed the assembly that a search for a new club administrator will take place over the next six to eight months. John White, who does the work of five people, will be retiring after many years of dedicated service to RCAA. “We’re in the mode now of meeting with people,” John explained. “We are not evaluating [candidates] at this point.”
A Pathways to Success student, Joy, spoke next. She had been described earlier by Andy Dahlmann as “our poster child for success.” To Joy’s audience, those words would ring loudly and true. A student at Washtenaw Community College, Joy has a passion for cooking and French, both the language and the cuisine. This has led to internships with Zingerman’s — at the Roadhouse, which resulted in her being offered a job as a line cook — as well as with the University of Michigan Union. At the same time she worked at Wendy’s, “on Washtenaw Avenue.” In high school, at Skyline, Joy had established the French Club. Club meetings were opportunities “to speak French as much as possible and to enjoy great [French] snacks.” If her listeners were inspired by this point, their admiration would overflow as Joy detailed the trauma she suffered from a physical attack. This attack would result in Joy doing everything necessary to balance her professional duties with the imperative of providing for a child. Sixty-hour work weeks would pay for an apartment and child care. Through it all, Joy has triumphed. As she walked back to her table she was greeted by over 100 standing Rotarians and guests, clapping till their palms ached. Andy Dahlmann, coming to the podium soon after, said it all: “Never let a setback set you back.”
Pathways to Success principal Shaenu Micou then addressed the assembly. He called for another ovation for Joy, then declared: “We truly value the future of our children — investing in our future; working with those in need.” He thanked Rotary: “It’s something else to give your time and resources.” About Pathways, Shaenu emphasized, “it’s all about Students Taking a Revived Interest in Education — STRIVE.” He then thanked all the parents present “for entrusting us with your children,” as well as his staff and counselors. Of his students the principal asserted, “you’re already great…Society needs your talents and gifts!” He then read the names of the students, all of whom received scholarships from our Club:
Stephen Adams, Cyrion Atkins, Noah Bond, Adrianna Brennan, Von Kraddick, Joe Ionellon, Unique Moss, Xavier Patton, Mahogany Richmond, Ranice Gray — winner of Dibdall Scholarship, Most Improved GPA, $1,500, Desiree Brown — winner, Lester Scholarship for Best Overall GPA, $2,000, Tiana Carrero — Most Improved GPA, $2,500.
A huge ovation greeted the students at the conclusion of the ceremony. John reminded everyone of JET: Join leaders, Exchange ideas, Take action. Thus ended what might be best described as a superlative Rotary meeting.
by John White