Today, I join with my fellow alums and the entire Santa Clara University community in mourning the passing of a fine Jesuit and a truly wonderful human being. Fr. Paul Leo Locatelli, S.J., affectionately known as “Papa Loc” to the SCU community, passed away this morning after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.
Fr. Locatelli served the Santa Clara University community for many years, including twenty years as SCU’s president–working towards improvements in academics and raising millions in funding to support building projects and financial aid for students. Most recently, Fr. Locatelli served as Chancellor at SCU and as Secretary of Higher Education for the Society of Jesus.
I still remember the first time I met Fr. Locatelli. I was walking with a friend to a late afternoon English course. Fr. Locatelli was walking toward us with a folder under his arm. He stopped, introduced himself, asked how we were liking SCU, and told us that if we arrived late to class we could always blame him. He was a genuinely nice man, a fine Jesuit and human being, and a staunch supporter of SCU and its students. I consider myself blessed to have attended SCU under his tenure and to see the fruit of his labors materialize in improvements to the campus and academic programs. He was the truest Bronco by far and all of us who spent time with him, even for a few seconds, were gifted with knowing one of the most sincere, funny, and compassionate human beings.
Since the announcement this morning, there have been some tributes posted by friends, local newspapers, and SCU. Here are some links:
Today, the world said a final farewell to Michael Jackson at a star-studded event at the Staples Center. The memorial service united big names in the entertainment industry with the Jackson family and fans around the world.
In a touching tribute, Brooke Shields eulogized her lifelong friend and recalled memories of laughter and mischief. She spoke of Michael’s playful personality and the truth of their friendship. Brooke was moved to tears and read a few lines from the The Little Prince. It was, by far, one of the most touching moments of the memorial. Here stood one of Michael’s closest and most trusted friends over the years sharing a little bit of the Michael she knew. It was a beautiful moment.
“…and even now the King of Pop must bow to the King of Kings.” –Pastor Luscious Smith
While several performers took the stage, the performances from Jennifer Hudson and Stevie Wonder stand out. Jennifer’s rendition of the gospel-tinged “Will you be there?” was powerful and soulful–watching the dancers perform what would have been the routine at MJ’s upcoming concert was touching. Stevie’s song selection was both emotional and appropriate. Stevie truly is a world class performer.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas even took the stage to present a plaque to the Jackson family. The plaque commemorated resolution 600 in the House of Representatives–a resolution to proclaim Michael Jackson a legend and icon the music industry and a great humanitarian.
Amid the star power and raw emotion sat three young children mourning their father. Prince Michael, Paris Michael, and Prince Michael II showed the world that they are mature and normal children. Clearly, the loss of their father has taken an emotional toll. In the closing minutes of the memorial, Paris gave an emotional tribute to her father. It served as a powerful testament to how much the children loved their father and how much Michael loved them.
After the casket had left the arena Pastor Luscious Smith offered a prayer that reminded everyone that everything, no matter how famous, ultimately will face mortality and a being far greater than anything a human being ever could be: “…and even now the King of Pop must bow to the King of Kings.”
Almost twelve years ago I sat on my living room couch and, with the rest of the world saw news report upon news report on the passing of Princess Diana. In the days that followed I bought almost every commemorative magazine published and ensured that each would be preserved and protected for years to come. For this fourteen year old girl in the United States, the death of Princess Diana was the first death by a major public figure that was loved around the world. Diana’s death became what the deaths of Elvis, Marilyn and John Lennon had been to others. I didn’t know Diana and I can write, with all honesty, that her death was tragic but Diana wasn’t enough a fabric of my life to evoke the kind of sadness others felt. I was a girl who knew of Diana and knew that her death was major. There are certain moments you don’t forget–where you were, what you felt, etc.
On June 26th, as I worked on one project or another at work, I received a Twitter alert from TMZ.com that read that Michael Jackson had been taken to UCLA Medical Center with apparent cardiac arrest. Only weeks before, I watched Michael on the news announcing his final tour and, later on some gossip show, watched as he exited a medical building in Southern California. I thought that maybe he had been working too hard or that TMZ had embellished what was really going on. After all, one doesn’t look to TMZ or Perez Hilton for the most credible information. But, this time TMZ got it right and half an hour or so after the first Twitter alert another Twitter alert announced that Michael Jackson had passed away. I sat in my chair and felt my heart drop—I was somewhere between sadness and disbelief.
I never met Michael Jackson nor had the opportunity to attend one of his concerts. I’ve never been the type of MJ fan that would scream when he hit the stage or dream of meeting him. But, I am and will always be a Michael Jackson fan and the news of his passing saddened me in ways I never thought a celebrity’s passing ever could. Michael’s music has been woven into the fabric of my life’s story from when I was a little girl to this very day. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve Michael Jackson, his music, his overall artistry.
The music industry has lost a genius of the craft and the world has lost a man whose music could unite. Michael Jackson was one of a kind—a performer who broke barriers for those that came after and an artist who was not afraid of challenging the norm in terms of music and lifestyle. In 1982, “Thriller” made its debut and until now has remained the single most bestselling album in history earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records and multi platinum certifications. In the days following Michael’s death songs from the album led MJ to become the first artist to garner over a million digital downloads in a week. The success of “Thriller” has stood the test of time for over twenty five years and it is doubtful any album will ever reach its success. “Thriller” was the album released a little over a month after I was born. Naturally, I wouldn’t hear or understand the songs until a few years later—in third grade.
My first encounter with the timelessness of MJ’s music came in third grade, academic year 1990-1991. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Young, had decided that our class should perform a play for our parents and the school. For months we rehearsed and recorded our lines for a play called “Kids in the Neighborhood.” The play involved inner city kids dealing with inner city problems and the effects of the Gulf War on families and the American psyche. Thinking about it now, it seems that the play was a little more advanced that what the typical eight or nine year old would act out. I played a twin sister in a multiracial family who groups up around violence and drugs into a young woman who goes to college and eventually becomes famous. My brother, in the play, is drafted and goes to war in the Middle East only to return severely injured and needing to cope with his new reality. The moral of the play was that inner city kids can thrive and that God, family and good friends are ultimately what can save a person from apparent hopelessness. A decade later what I remember most about the play are the songs that became the soundtrack of the character’s lives: “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Wanna be Startin’ Somethin,” and “Bad.” I still remember our play rehearsals and how I and my classmates learned each song not because we had to (some of us only had to sing along to one or two) but because there was no way we couldn’t. MJ’s music had already entered our experience and each one of so desperately tried to perfect the Moonwalk or the anti-gravity lean from “Smooth Criminal.” Of course, we tried to no avail. To this day, only Michael Jackson could ever do either the way it was meant to be done—they were his moves after all (the moves from Smooth Criminal were even patented!).
A few months after the play’s one –week run, Michael Jackson debuted his new single, “Black or White,” after a Simpsons episode. I still remember that evening as if it was yesterday. My parents and I sat down to watch the Simpsons and waited in anticipation for Michael’s new video. All was wonderful until the coda—all the crotch-grabbing made my parents cover my eyes. I still remember walking into my third grade classroom the next day and we were all talking about it and the boys, of course, were emulating Michael’s moves. In that same year, Michael would guest star on a Simpsons episode and pen the “Bartman” song for the show. Two years later, I sat transfixed watching Michael perform at the Super Bowl XXVII halftime show—setting off a long line of talented artists at the Super Bowl in years to come.
In the years that followed, Michael Jackson’s life would take a front row seat to his music. The obvious plastic surgeries, the change in skin tone and the swelling rumors of child molestation would dominate what the world would hear about Michael in the news. It is obvious that Michael’s fame came at a heavy price. Interviews with Michael would reveal that he was the victim of psychological and physical abuse as a child star trying to meet his father’s expectations. His Neverland Ranch became a childhood fantasy world for an entertainer whose real childhood consisted of constant work and the pressure to stay relevant in an industry where fame’s light can be snuffed in an instant. Michael’s childhood was far from normal and it was normalcy, in the midst of an extraordinary career, that Michael seemed to always crave. His song “Childhood” says it all not only in the lyrics but in the sentimentality with which he sings.
I will never know if the allegations against Michael Jackson were true. Part of me, because children were involved, always wanted to believe that he did commit those acts. The other part of me always doubted if the allegations weren’t just a ploy to take advantage of Michael. Michael lived a very tragic life. He forever remained a young boy even as he reached the age of 50. It was his childish innocence that led him to work for peace and donate millions to humanitarian organizations. Many of his songs called for world peace, equality, love and overall understanding of others’ plight. That fact does not excuse his poor judgment in sleeping with young boys. I do not know if Michael’s motivation was to have the sleepovers he didn’t have in his childhood or if it was something more. Either way one cannot forget that all people have flaws and that one cannot look to celebrities to be role models. I will not judge him for his flaws–that is something only God can do.
Despite the constant focus on his appearance, reclusive lifestyle, the child molestation allegations, drug use, and the often bizarre antics, I choose to remember Michael’s music above all. His songs, in many ways, have become part of the soundtrack of my life. So much of my iTunes playlist involves the King of Pop and so many memories are attached to his songs. I will also never forget playing Michael Jackson’s MoonWalker on my Sega Genesis so many afternoons after school. In the game Michael saved children while dancing and singing his way through level after level. Not many people remember that game…I still do. (If it ever comes back, I’m buying it!)
We may never see the likes of Michael Jackson in our lifetime or in the lifetime of our children or our children’s children. Michael, despite his later years, was a true talent and a dynamic performer. No other recording artist, or celebrity for that matter, has had the worldwide acclaim that he garnered over the years and no other celebrity has been mourned the way MJ is being mourned around the world today. It is a testament to the God-given talent he shared with the world and the love he had for his fans. Over the past few days, I’ve watched every Michael Jackson video out there and listened to my favorite Michael Jackson hits. The music has allowed me to relive so many wonderful memories and it has allowed me to appreciate Michael Jackson’s artistry in a way I never have before. It’s a reminder to appreciate what one has before it’s gone.
The price of fame is high. No doubt a part of oneself is lost in the process of becoming one of the best in your art. Michael Jackson was, undoubtedly, in a league of his own and it was fame that may have ultimately been his downfall. He never could achieve the success of “Thriller” and, perhaps, that haunted him over the years. We’ll never know. What is certain, however, is that Michael Jackson’s memory will live on in his music and his music will live on forever.
I will remember Michael for his songs and he will continue to live in the memories of my third grade play and within my music collection. My prayers are with his children and his family.
Michael, rest in peace King of Pop.
Here are some of my favorite Michael Jackson songs:
Our nation lost a great political journalist yesterday. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to Tim Russert’s family. May he rest in peace.
In a commencement address to my alma mater’s graduating class of 2005, Tim Russert said:
The future leaders of this country and this world will not be born to the blood of kings and queens but to the blood of immigrants and pioneers. It is now your turn.
Work and live in comfort. Enjoy yourself — that is the American way. But remember the people struggling alongside you and below you — the people who haven’t had the same opportunity, the same blessings, the same education.