Archive for the ‘unforgettable people’ Category

Can I share my latest obsession? I can’t help but smile when I think of them: the precious pint-size duo from Essex, England, the little British girls who are taking this country by storm. On the cuteness scale, they are way off the charts. Meet Sophia Grace and Rosie.

Sophia Grace, pictured right above, and Rosie, eight and five years old respectively, are precious moppets who favor Easter egg-hued tutus and sparkly tiaras. They came to the attention of The Ellen Show because of a video showcasing Sophia Grace’s talent, natural charm and boundless energy. Their very first appearance launched these sensations into instant celebrity.

Sophia Grace is crazy about rock music and rock artists, and not only has talent, but an uncanny ability to memorize lyrics as well as strut like a pro on stage. Her breadth of knowledge of songs and artists is incredible, and her renditions are sweet and soulful. Cousin Rosie, her “hype girl,” is there for moral support and cheerfully accompanies her partner on stage. Sophia Grace likes having her there “because she gives me confidence,” she said in her sweet little clipped British voice.

The girls returned to The Ellen Show and were treated to a surprise visit from Sophia Grace’s idol, Nikki Minaj.

You can see that Nikki is completely blown away by the awesomeness of her protegé, and Sophia Grace is beyond excited to meet Nikki.

Ellen has had the girls back several times. In this clip, The Ellen Show flew them out to Hollywood to walk the red carpet at the Grammys, a dream come true for Sophia Grace. So adorable.

And just one more.

This segment is “Tea Time with Sophia Grace and Rosie,” guest starring Taylor Swift. To die for!

Have you fallen in love yet?

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I am achy, bleary-eyed and yawning incessantly this morning. But so very happy.

For those of you who don’t know the magic that is THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, let me explain.

AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey

Officially known as The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, THON was started 40 years ago by Penn State students who wanted to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Inspired by the story of Christopher Millard, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11, they earmarked all their proceeds for Penn State Hershey’s Children’s Hospital Four Diamonds Fund which supports pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Christopher’s parents, Charles and Irma Millard, established the Four Diamonds Fund in his memory. Before he succumbed to the disease at age 14, Christopher wrote a story about a knight searching for four diamonds — Courage, Wisdom, Honesty and Strength — that would release him from captivity by an evil sorceress.

It is unthinkable; the worst nightmare possible. Your child is sick, not getting better. You are delirious with worry. Imagine hearing the words no parent ever wants to hear. Picture being wracked with fear, grief, anxiety. That’s where the Four Diamonds Fund comes in. The Fund offsets the cost of treatment that insurance doesn’t cover, and takes cares of expenses incurred by the child and family, making sure that of all the things to worry about, finances won’t be one of them.

To raise money, students plan events throughout the year, most visibly on “canning” weekends, when students fan out into communities to solicit donations. Since canning weekends are in the late fall and early winter, it is usually freezing cold. But Penn State students don’t let a little cold slow them down.

All the Penn State campuses are involved. Alumni groups pitch in. Even high schools have “mini THONS.” More than 350 groups and organizations are involved with THON, and about 15,000 Penn State students volunteer in some capacity. Imagine all that goes into an undertaking of this magnitude, and then remember that this is completely student-run. Clearly, Penn State students are the most amazing in the world.

THON weekend is in February and is held at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State’s campus. Seven hundred students are on their feet for 46 hours, and 15,000 people fill the stands (and “stands” is the operative word; no one sits) to cheer them on. Brightly colored t-shirts identify each participating organization.  The energy is extraordinary; everyone is always moving, dancing, cheering, singing, swaying, clapping.  THON weekend is a combination of rock concert, revival meeting, circus, song fest, dance, pep rally, costume party, exercise workout, and bonding experience, and that’s just the beginning. I still haven’t found the words to adequately describe THON.

students make the "diamond" sign

THON kids and their families are the VIPs. Many of the parents say that their kids love THON as much as Christmas. The kids get to be kids and have an entire weekend of fun. Some of them perform on stage. Most of them are happy to run around the floor and play with the Penn State dancers. There are spirited water pistol battles, piggyback rides, face painting, bubble blowing, and lots of hugging.

photo by 6ABC

Although the ambiance is mostly festive, there are moments of deep sadness. Several THON families share their stories, and not all of them have a happy ending. We cheer at the videos of children who have beaten the disease, and sob at the ones portraying kids who have lost the battle. It is because of them that we will keep fighting until no child has to endure this terrible fate, and no parent has to hear that grim diagnosis. We THON FTK: For the Kids.

Bryce Carter, on crutches, and his family. His mom describes his ongoing battle with cancer. AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey.

Penn State students raised $10.6 million for the kids this year. This shatters last year’s total by more than a million dollars. Like everyone else, I was on my feet for the better part of two and a half days. I am beyond exhausted, but bursting with love and Penn State pride.

Joe Paterno left us with a mandate: make an impact. Thank you, Penn State students, for doing just that. FTK.

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The man in the blue windbreaker looked perplexed. Squinting in the bright light, he waved away a swirl of clouds, searching for a familiar face. He took off his glasses and wiped the lenses clean, then replaced them, blinking.  All at once he broke into a grin.

“Hey stranger!” he called to the tall guy with the houndstooth hat.

“Winningest coach, eh?” smiled the elder man. “Good to see you, buddy.”

Blue Windbreaker caught up and fell into step. “After I saw what happened when you retired, well … ” he faltered.

“I know. Kind of surprised me too, but I guess it was my time.”

“Heck of a thing,” Blue Windbreaker said. “If you’d have told me I’d still be coaching at the age of  85, I would’ve told you you were crazy. But you know how it is, hard to let go. Just one more season, I thought.”

“You had, what, 409 wins? Five undefeated seasons? Two national championships?” Houndstooth Hat asked, “Not too shabby.”

“And you had six national championships,” Blue Windbreaker said. “That’s some kind of career.”

“The last time we met up was, let’s see, October 9, 1982 in Birmingham,” mused Houndstooth Hat. “You guys were number three and we were number four. Remember?”

Blue Windbreaker winced. “Sure do. You beat us 42-21. I’ve had a hard time forgetting.”

“I think I remember every loss. Every gosh darned one.”

“Hey, you do the best you can and most times come out OK. In life, too.” Blue Windbreaker paused. “There were mistakes made, things I wish I had done differently. Regrets.”

Houndstooth Hat nodded solemnly.

“The facts will be learned. The verdict will come out,” he said softly. “But trust me, old friend. Your legacy will endure.”

“You know they gave me a statue by the stadium,” Blue Windbreaker said. “It says:

‘They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.'”


Disclaimer: The conversation in this post is 100% fictional and was created by me.

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Serena Williams has faced difficulties of all shapes, sizes and colors with a positive attitude. Perhaps she was preordained, by virtue of her given name, to have the ability to find inner calm in the face of adversity. Her determination and focus have everything to do with why she is still a contender in this year’s U.S. Open.

Serena and her older sister, Venus, were an anomaly when they burst onto the USTA circuit ten years ago. For starters, they were beautiful African-American women, muscular and awesomely strong. Also, they were insulated from the professional tennis circles by their father. Overbearing and even disturbing at times, Richard Williams had nonetheless managed to coach his talented daughters to super-stardom with his own rules, answering to nobody, and he obviously knew what he was doing.

Serena and Venus faced plenty of haters and doubters in their early years, maybe even still to this day. Skepticism, catcalls, and indifference if not antipathy from other players in the circuit was what they dealt with every day. But they almost always kept their cool, and I give them tons of credit for that. Relentlessly poked and prodded in interviews, they took the high road, in their soft-spoken way.

There was a famous incident a couple of years ago between Serena and a line judge. Serena lost it, and was fined accordingly. She is not perfect. If there are other examples of her losing her composure, though, I am not aware of them. Yes, her frustration sometimes gets the better of her, but she can psych herself back into the zone really well.

She’s had her ups and downs, plagued with a number of injuries, and missed several tournaments this year. Seeded #28, she came to the U.S. Open this year expecting no less of herself than when she was ranked #1. Fighting every step of the way, she has again showed her brilliance. Tomorrow she faces Carolyn Wozniacki in the semi-finals.

Serena, go out there and wow us again. I’m rooting for you.

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Arnold Markley died on Friday at the age of 47. He was my friend.

I was one of thousands, it seems, whose life was enriched by knowing him in his too brief stay on this earth. Arnold was an English professor at Penn State Brandywine. His area of expertise was old English literature, and he brought it alive for his students. He was also their mentor, advocate, supporter, and they thought the world of him. It was no surprise that he was voted Distinguished Teacher of the Year in 2007.

Arnold was uniquely genuine, a southern gentleman whose kindness and generosity never faltered. No wonder his childhood nickname was “Beau.” I don’t think there was a person in the world who did not love Arnold. He and I shared a love of literature and a passion for language, and I sometimes called him with questions about grammar.  He always seemed  happy to be asked. But he often initiated a conversation by complimenting me on my work. In fact, his emails were so sweet, so kind, that I saved all of them in my personal folder on my laptop. If ever I needed a boost, I could reread those emails and feel better. That was what Arnold MarkleyArnold did. He made people feel better.

Arnold suffered with leukemia for three and a half years. He fought hard but the disease prevailed, despite a stem cell transplant and multiple rounds of chemo. Throughout it all, his courage and dignity were an inspiration. His devoted partner, Brian, showed all of us how you deal with something so unimaginably horrific and with bravery, strength and grace. It was due to Brian’s faithful postings online that Arnold’s wide circle of friends and family were able to follow his ups and downs over the course of this battle.

So many of us wanted to do anything we could to help. I volunteered as a dinner provider, and one day in January I delivered a moussaka to Arnold’s home. Not only did Arnold thank me profusely over and over, he told others about it as well. In the last weeks of his life I delivered another moussaka, and he emailed me the following: “It is still the BEST I’ve ever had — and I’ve been to Greece and have had it several times. Too good to be true!”

Arnold, you were too good to be true. I will never forget you. Rest in peace, my friend.

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