While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Commencement Gifts, No. 6

On May 13, 2012, Jonah would have graduated from the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo. To mark this occasion in a meaningful way, I have invited friends from his freshman year (who knew him as “Mac”) to share memories about him. These young people have opened for me a small window into the life Jonah had begun away from home. I hope this collection of stories opens that window for you.

I can’t get to all of Jonah’s friends before this project ends, so here are a bunch of shorter writings for you to enjoy.

Ashera Buhite majored at UB in Global Gender Studies (she writes, “The arguments on feminism I had with Mac were The Best!”) and will be graduating this coming fall. She plans to do graduate study in Public Health and to work in sexuality education and violence prevention. Ashera writes:

The most beautiful memories I have of Mac are of him and his love for Jade. Once, she secretly snuck up to Buffalo to surprise him. We spent the whole day keeping him busy and getting her here (from Hobart-Smith College in Geneva, NY) and, when he saw her, his whole face lit up. I don’t think I ever saw him happier than when he was with Jade.

June Chang graduated in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Today, she is a registered nurse at the NYU Medical Center in New York City. She plans on going back to school for her master’s degree. Still looking for her niche in the healing profession, June is happy to report that she’s very happy where she is. June writes:

Although I didn’t know Mac for a long time, those six months were definitely worth every moment, every memory, that I have. Mac was a wonderful friend with such a beautiful soul. And I’m forever thankful I got the chance to know him, to have him in my life where he will always hold a piece of my heart.

Charlene Smerdon, who studied photography and art at UB, was really only an acquaintance of Jonah’s. She met him through her friend, Lexi Milford, and had the opportunity to record his image for posterity (not knowing how important that brief act would become for us) when she photographed him at The Elli, a convenience store for students and staff inside Jonah’s dorm complex. Charlene told us that Jonah always had a smile for her whenever he entered The Elli and she was delighted to capture that smile in a photograph for a class project she’d been working on. This is the picture which currently adorns the promotional material for the “Commencement Gifts” project. Charlene sent us a beautifully framed copy of the photograph, which Katie is hanging onto. She recently wrote these words:

The first time I met Mac was in the Ellicott complex. I was grabbing a quick dinner on my break from working at the Elli and ran into Alexis and Mac; their entourage soon followed. It was such a fun conversation, I really wish that I could have remembered what we were all talking about. But nonetheless, I remember it being quite humorous. After that, I always saw Alexis and Mac hanging out together. They were inseparable.

The defining and memorable moment of Mac was when I working at the Elli. I worked as a cashier and, over time, I started to learn the eating habits of most of the students. Sadly, most of their choices were extremely unhealthy. I thought that this would be a great photography project so I started to intertwine my job and my art together. With any artist, we reach a “block” with our work at one point or another as we’re trying to persevere through our tiredness, poor diet, and just wanting to get yet another project done to go on to the next, then hopefully a break to go home. In November, I certainly was feeling this way, just wanting to be done with the semester. Mac and Alexis came into the Elli, buying a few snacks for their evening. I thought “Hey?! I can ask them for help for my project!” I distinctly remember asking Mac and his face lit up with a huge smile on his face! I was surprised that out of all the students I’ve asked to be photographed, Mac, with no hesitation, volunteered. I actually think he was more excited about the project than I was! Mac’s willingness to help with a simple project of mine left a huge impression and I hold this memory dear. With his vivacious attitude, this made me reevaluate how I felt about my artwork and thought that I should continue to have that same exuberant attitude towards how I should live my life.

Stuart Barnett left the University at Buffalo and is currently studying at Queens College to be a teacher. Stuart writes:

Jonah and I met in high school, during my first Winter Kallah (a temple youth group program) in 2007. We didn’t really become friends until my next kallah in winter 2008. I always had a great time whenever I was around him or talking to him. When we found out that we were going to be at SUNY Buffalo at the same time, it felt good to know somebody else who was going to be there, especially someone I was friends with. There was a group of us up at Buffalo that would usually meet up in the same spot to hang out and talk. He was a big part of that group and he is someone I will always remember.

Adrien d’Angelo, who is graduating from UB next week, writes:

My friend, brother, my mirror … we played the tunes of our ancestors, talked of the philosophical, met spirits, and gathered fire into our hearts. I marvel at how one day changes a person, but one person can always change the day, the week, the world. Mac was that kind of person. And me … I’m just blessed to have met him. I won’t soon forget, even though three years seems like a long time for a wound in my heart that still seems so fresh. But love is a stronger force than you or I.

Rob Miller left UB after his freshman year and moved around a bit. This fall, he’ll be returning to school for an Associate’s Degree in mechanical engineering. He wrote passionately of his friendship with Jonah, even recording a song in Jonah’s memory. Here are some of Rob’s words:

Maccabee was one of the most brilliant and inspiring souls I have ever met. He was creative and hilarious. I remember all of the jam sessions we’d all share. I remember just sitting at the benches and talking – he always had interesting things to say. He had a specific walk to him, striding proudly and with purpose, but with also a smirk of a smile, always having a bit of fun with whatever life threw at him. Maccabee was a great soul and I’m glad I was able to meet him and have him in my life.

Lots of words expressing loss and sadness were written immediately after Jonah died. But Genevieve Van Dussen, a fellow student at UB, wrote some words in those early days of March 2009 that provided us with some terrific images of Jonah. I loved reading them then, so I include them here:

You were truly one incredible person. You were always able to put a smile on my face and reverse my bad mood into a good one. You are not like anyone I have ever met. I will never forget our ridiculously long walk from South Campus to North Campus when I asked you if you would tell me a story and boy, did you. I never laughed so hard. I will also never forget that “V for Vendetta” mask in your room, watching random movie clips together on your computer, your walk (or should I say your “swagger”), your checkered hat, red aviators, the many trips you made to my dorm (you were such a gentleman and always walked me to my room), your guitar playing with that bright red guitar of yours. You asked me if I wanted to buy it, but that guitar could only fit one person — you and nobody else. You were such a lovely person inside and out. I will miss you so much, Mac.

Jonah and friends UB 2008-09

Jonah and friends
UB 2008-09

So much of this feels familiar. After all, Jonah had only been out of high school for six months. But he’d carried that big, bold, beautiful, spirited personality of his to Buffalo. And in the few months he was there, touched lives in some gigantic ways. I’m so proud of him for having been that kind of a person (that kind of a kind person). Some would say, “One of a kind.” But that’s never been important to me. That Jonah had become so comfortably happy with himself, and selflessly shared his joyfulness with others, these are two of life’s greatest achievements. And in only nineteen years, he got it. And we, who are still around trying to figure life out, can learn a few lessons from Jonah Maccabee about how to really live.

As May 13, 2012, approaches, these are some of his commencement gifts to us.

Billy

P.S. “Commencement Gifts” is The Jonah Maccabee Foundation’s very first fundraiser. Thinking of what might have been Jonah’s graduation on May 13, 2012, we “commence” the work of what I hope will be a worthwhile participant in the not-for-profit community. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift at https://www.jonahmac.org by Sunday, May 13 (okay, or any other time). Thank you.

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