This story begins in early April, 2014, with an email from a colleague, Dave Dimas, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Irvine. The email went as follows.
As you probably know, President Obama is the keynote speaker at the UCI graduation ceremony at Angel Stadium on June 14, 2014. The chancellor is considering the possibility of inviting some local industry people to view the ceremony from the Chancellor’s suite. If this happens, would you be interested?”
I was, of course, flattered to be offered such an opportunity, even though, at the moment, I was not sure exactly what a chancellor suite was, what such an invitation would mean, and why it might be made to me. I had worked and made friends with UCI faculty over many years, had given a few lectures, and served on an advisory committee, but had never donated money.
At that moment, I would have had to respond negatively, simply because I had already made commitments to travel to England. But something stopped me from immediately saying no thanks, and I delayed responding for a few days. I mentioned the invitation to friends, who were unanimous in suggesting that I work out some way to go. Returning from Europe to the USA just for a day’s experience was not a viable choice.
Still, I hesitated to reply until suddenly the universe stepped in and changed my entire schedule. A protracted legal case in which I was involved for the past three years suddenly came alive, threatening a delay of my European travel that could remove my previous restriction. So I emailed Dave that I would be interested if such an opportunity presented itself. He responded that the chancellor requested a guest list two days earlier, and he would see if he could add my name to the list.
The trial was delayed yet again moving it into June, when another email from Dave stated, “Jim, it’s on, and you are in. A formal invitation follows.” The universe had made my attendance seem possible by removing all excuses.
The invitation was ominous, instructing that everyone must be seated by 10 AM and warning guests to allow up to three hours for security, large crowds, and traffic delays. Freeways, some streets, and air space was being temporarily closed. I began dreading an unknown, highly disciplined, high security situation. I spent a sleepless night wondering if secret agents would follow me to the bathroom and shove me against a wall for a random search. As the day unfolded my dreads faded, beginning with an easy 15 minute drive to Angel Stadium, immediate parking and hundreds of staff who were moving the crowds with complete confidence. I was inside the stadium by 7:15, now wondering how I could spend the next 3 hours. I had wisely brought my sketchbook and could do some drawing to use up the time.
Having no idea what a chancellor’s suite is, I took the escalator to the third level, where I stood searching for directions to suites. A staff member, seeing my confusion, pointed me to my designated suite, 20 feet away. Entering the suite, I was delighted to see a small open ended living room, equipped with a bar, coffee, champagne, breakfast snacks, and comfortable seating. At the open end seats for about 20 people provided an excellent view of the stage positioned in center field. TV monitors provided close up views of the stage. I immediately began meeting interesting people.
The universe messes with me a lot, and today was no exception. My three year involvement with the legal case had taught me many interesting things about our justice system, especially its inadequacy in providing affordable justice. The case had inspired me to do additional research and to record what I had learned with the intention of helping others avoid many of the pitfalls I had seen. I was on the way to a useful essay or even, perhaps, a book. The first gentleman I met was the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County. His whole purpose in life was to deal with an unfair justice system and to bring justice to those who could not afford justice. With much mutually interesting information to exchange, we had an extended conversation, mixed with breakfast, drinks, lunch and more drinks and snacks, all beautifully catered and served by a staff member.
Angel Stadium-UCI Graduation Services for the Class of 2014 ...........................................................................President Barack Obama, Keynote Speaker
At 10:30, eight thousand graduates began their procession, taking over an hour to fill the seats. Our group took our seats when the speeches began. When the president arrived on stage, I exploited my telephoto lens, getting excellent close-ups of people on the stage. The president’s speech was inspiring and interesting; I had never before experienced the live presence of a U.S president, making the experience all the more interesting. The day was a delightful experience filled with excitement, emotion, and interest, and to my pleasant surprise, leaving was even easier that coming, taking less than 20 minutes for my return home.
But the most bizarre part of the story emerged upon my arrival at home as I downloaded and examined photographs. I had taken many pictures of the president on stage. As those pictures appeared on my screen I discovered something startling I had not noticed in the process of taking them. Sitting immediately behind the president was a professor, who looks exactly like me. The universe couldn’t resist adding just one more bizzare thing to the day.
President Obama seated with professors ...........................................................................................................................The Author, NOT seated behind the president