Many may wonder why anyone would board a plane from Tampa to New York in mid-March just days after a major snowstorm blew through the northeast. For the president and staff at Saint Leo University it was an easy decision.
Many may not realize the long history between greater New York and Saint Leo University in Tampa Bay. For decades a very large contingent of New York high school seniors have chosen Saint Leo as their next step and college of choice. There is a strong catholic pull to a place where the Benedictine values are very much alive and practiced in daily campus life. There is, of course, the thought of winters where the average temperature is 70 degrees! There is the pull of a strong NCAA Division II athletic program. And as one alum put it, “it is only two and a half hours from home…by plane!”
Regardless of why they came, many returned after graduation to New York to build their lives, careers and families. The result is a strong alumni group that enjoys getting together and supporting the university.
So what better event to rally around than the premier St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world – New York!
Our festivities began the evening before with a traditional Irish dinner at the Pig n Whistle just off Times Square. The sold-out gathering featured corn beef, cabbage, potatoes and the required “beverages” to warm the hearts of all attending. From the youngest graduates last spring to those celebrating 50 years or more since graduation the room was filled with laughter and fellowship. Certainly top of mind was our chance to march up Fifth Avenue the next day. The anticipation was so great that even the talk of a cold day was quickly dismissed.
On “the big day” the Saint Leo University contingent dutifully assembled in the appointed spot and, while hard to believe, the smiles and laughter were greater than the previous night. As marching bands and bagpipers began to warm up, flocks of firefighters passed and Saint Leo University sashes were distributed the anticipation grew. As our block began to move toward the big turn onto Fifth Avenue the rows formed up and the smiles barely hid the pride each person felt in representing the university at such a prestigious event.
Fifth Avenue was packed with crowds that were cheering us on and happy to show that New York is a city that knows how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Along the route we heard calls from those who knew Saint Leo and received our loudest support from those who realized many of us made the trek from sunny Florida to be with them on this occasion. All of that support made it feel like we could have gone another hundred blocks and some in our group (the younger ones) lamented when the parade route ended.
After the parade we made our way to another local establishment and spent some time in fellowship with New York’s police and firefighters. They represent the best of the city and it was a perfect way to end a very special day.
God bless the committee for a special day. The city should be proud of a partnership that makes it all possible. And the cheering crowds allowed even the native Floridians among us to feel warm and welcome on a chilly day.
Our sadness came only in knowing we’ll need to wait 12 long months until March 17, 2018!
Denny Moller is vice president for Advancement & Communications at Saint Leo University in Tampa Bay, Florida.