My oldest child—and only daughter—Alana, graduated from Kent State University on Friday, May 12, 2023! This is an amazing milestone in her life.
First of all it was not easy. She had to work her way through college, with a full course load. My wife and I helped where we could.
Alana had quite the varied living experience while attending Kent State; She commuted from North Canton for a year, she lived at the Honors College dorm for a semester, she telecommuted when the pandemic closed down the campus, and for two years she lived in an off-campus apartment.
She didn't have a car, so she had to walk from her off-campus
housing, to her classes on campus, and to her jobs. On an average day for her, she would walk tens of thousands of steps!
When Andrea (my wife, and Alana’s mom) was still pregnant with Alana, I would read "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Suess to her usually once a day. Right after Alana was born (this was within the first few minutes of her birth), she was kind of looking around; I started quoting "Green Eggs and Ham" and she stopped and just looked right at me as though she figured out that it was me that was speaking those words for those many months.
I knew Alana was smart at an early age. She was walking by 7 months, and was talking well enough to carry on conversations when she was a toddler. She always loved when we would read to her, which we did every night. When we read to her, we would make our voices change for each character that is speaking, and give the proper emphasis on the words to convey the intended emotion. As she was learning to read we would have her read some of the simple Dr. Suess, then harder things as time went on. To this day, she still loves reading. When I hear her reading to her younger brother I love to hear her make her voice change for each character that is speaking, and give the proper emphasis on the words to convey the intended emotion. She really makes a story come to life.
For the first two years of Alana's life, we limited her television exposure—she didn't watch television. After she was 2 we let her start watching some television, she chose to watch shows like Rugrats, Word World, and Arthur.
One time, when she was 3 or 4, I took her out to the park across the street from our house. I was playing with her for a while, then she stopped and asked, "Why is the sky blue?" That question isn't very unusual for children to ask, but how she was just looking at me and taking in the entire explanation seemed unusual for someone her age.
I explained how the sun gives off light that is white, and that white light actually has all of the colors that we can see in it. When the light goes through the atmosphere, part of the light gets refracted, or broken off, in a way that the blue portion of the light is made visible. At that point she still seemed enthralled with what I was saying so I went into a simple explanation of how a prism works (some of you might recall what the Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" album cover looked like), and how tiny water droplets do the same thing when they are up in the sky and the sun shines through them to make a rainbow.
All that time she was taking in every word, and working it out in her head … at the age of 3 or 4!
When Alana started school, she was always smart. Even so, I told her that if she didn't understand something that was being taught, that she should raise her hand and ask about it. I told her that nobody knows everything—that is why we go to school, to learn everything we can. I also told her not to think that everyone else in the class knows what is being taught, they are probably scared to raise their hand and ask questions if they do not know something (because they don't want to look "dumb" in front of their peers), so she is probably helping them by asking her questions.
After she started reading books on her own, I would often find her reading at night—long after I tucked her in to bed.
Gifted and Talented
It was not long into her school career that she tested into the "Gifted and Talented" classes (I think that was in the second grade). One of the things she learned there was to never do the bare minimum in whatever is assigned to you, but to always go beyond what is required. She seems to apply that in many aspects of her life.
by Alana Lazarides (age 7)
Every once in a while,
It may seem very small,
Near the end of elementary school, a teacher told Alana that she would not always be getting A’s and that she should accept that. When Alana told us about that conversation, it sounded like the teacher might have been jealous (and maybe angry) that Alana was keeping her grades high. It seemed like a strange conversation for a teacher to have with a student, as though she was trying to crush Alana’s spirit. But Alana just kept doing what she was good at, bringing home A’s.
On her 8th Grade trip to Washington D.C., they made a special visit to the Library of Congress because one of the teachers knew how much reading, books, and libraries meant to Alana. So, the entire class got to go to the Library of Congress because one of the teachers knew that Alana would want.
All through public school she was always in the most advanced
class that were available. In college she was in all of the Honors
versions of the classes that were available. If there was ever an
option to do any extra credit work, she would almost always do it
also—even though she didn't need to.
When teachers/professors would put her into groups of other students where they would have to work on a project together, each one of them would get the grade that the group earned as a whole. I imagine that the other kids must have loved to be in a group with Alana because she would not let them bring her grade down, she would end up re-doing most of the work that was supposed to be done by the other kids if it was not good, or not correct. She even did that in college. She always got A’s for herself and everyone in the groups she was part of.
It was during these years that she started to learn Critical Thinking—to be critical of what you are being told (do not always believe things at face value), and do some real research to make sure what you are being told is the actual truth.
In public school she was in Academic Challenge, the Mathletes, ran Cross Country, threw Shot Put, and
was on the Bowling Team. She was also playing the Violin in the school
Orchestra. Outside of school she taught herself how to play the Ukulele,
Guitar and the Bass Guitar. In college she learned the Piano. She
believes that learning music helps a person be smarter. Also in
college she joined a Dungeons & Dragons club, and Writer's Bloc. She is happy, and proud, be called a Nerd—she never saw that as a derogatory term, but rather a badge of honor.
Alana also took Spanish, American Sign Language, and Italian.
When she went to college, she got into the Kent State Honors College.
PHI BETA KAPPA – Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s most prestigious honor society, was founded in 1776 by students at the College of William & Mary who recognized the importance of a liberal education as the foundation of participation in a democratic society. Phi Beta Kappa recognizes students who have achieved excellence in all aspects of their education, and who have a strong background in the liberal arts and sciences, mathematics and a foreign language. Fewer than 1% of students across the nation are elected to Phi Beta Kappa annually. The Kent State University chapter was established in 1976, and each year the Phi Beta Kappa faculty members elect juniors and seniors who have met the high standards of excellence of the society.
Phi Beta Kappa is an honor society, not a fraternity or sorority.
In her junior year Alana was asked to join Phi Beta Kappa. You can not ask to join them—they have to ask you, based on your ability to meet their standards.
In the summer between her junior and senior years of college she was in the Kent State Study Abroad program in Florence, Italy. This experience was a good one for her not only on an educational level, but also a personal level. On their trip to Rome, the professor asked if anyone knew what all of the different types of columns were that they could see. One of the girls spoke up and said that Alana knew. The professor asked Alana if she knew, Alana said yes and went on to tell them what each type of column was. The professor seemed a bit surprised and told her that maybe she should be the one teaching everyone.
In her senior year she started working at the Poetry Center, they chose her as one of their representatives for a conference in Seattle, Washington. Alana has always been more mature than other people her age; she has said that she feels like she’s the mother figure to some of her friends, teaching them things that their parents should have taught them.
Part of Alana's duties at the Poetry Center involved Community Outreach, where she would go to public schools in the area to teach poetry, and encourage the kids to write poetry. That involved coordinating with the teachers, and created lesson plans that were engaging, inspirational, and motivating.
Even though her personal social media presence was minimal, the Poetry Center put her in charge of their social media posts, which also involved her doing some graphic design.
Alana even had a few of her own poems published.
All through public school, every report card she brought home had straight A's. That trend also carried though to all of her college grades.
A couple of Alana's professors told their students that they never give out A's, yet Alana's work was always able to earn her A's even from them!
Alana graduated Summa Cum Laude with an asterisk (*) next to her name in the Commencement Program, indicating that she had the highest possible grade point average of 4.000 over the four years that she went to Kent State.
So, Alana went through her entire school career—K through 12, and all of her college—with straight A's!
Alana really put the in the work to earn those grades too, it was not unusual for her to be doing homework into the morning hours. Sometimes she would only get a couple of hours of sleep before she had to go to school again.
Both Andrea and myself are as proud of her as anyone could ever be of anything.
When I look at her now, I sometimes think of the words that she
decorated the top of her graduation cap with:
“Oh what is that beautiful thing that just happened?”
(from At Blackwater Pond by Mary Oliver)
At Blackwater Pond
by Mary Oliver
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
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