The crowd is deafening as he mounts the stage, alternating between chants of “bay-be san-to” and “one more year, one more year,” they rattle the windows of ancient Jake Nevin fieldhouse.
The fans, standing room only, are instantly hushed into anxious anticipation. No one would call someone who stands all of five feet six inches tall intimidating, but his control of the crowd with one outstretched hand as he draws his first breath to speak is impressive.
“I really am grateful to all you for coming out. I know it is finals week and many of you have sacrificed precious study time to be here with me today.”
The boos, which began at the mention of dreaded final exams, instantly reverse back into raucous cheering as he finished his introduction. Bashful as always, he looks down and tucks half of his long black hair behind his right ear, before raising his chin, and exposing a face colored by glistening blue eyes and white teeth, revealed in a shy half smile.
Though this is his greatest moment, he can’t shake the humility in his heart.
“If you told me four years ago, this is where I would be standing one week before graduation, I’d have called you crazy.”
“Rejected from Northwestern, Penn, BC and waitlisted to Villanova, I was already making plans to attend community college for a semester while I picked up the pieces of my shattered dreams and tried to figure out why I, despite all my hard work throughout high school, may not end up in college.”
“When Villanova offered to admit me on the condition that I commute, I did not breathe a sigh of relief. One of the aspects of University living I was most excited for was living on my own. Now I was being asked to combine the worst part of high school, having no privacy from parents, with the worst part of college. Namely, classes.”
“Yet, I relented and decided to stay in an off campus apartment with two seniors. I was still missing out on making friends, sleeping in dorms and all of those bonds formed freshman year. Though, I loved my roommates, my window of opportunity to become integrated into the Villanova community had closed.”
The arena was funereal quiet, with more than a few girls openly weeping, and a few guys, whose guilty consciences now tightened around their necks like a hangman’s noose, shamefully looked to the floor for solace.
“No, no don’t cry for me. It made me stronger, made me who I am. And you did something much more important: you not only accepted, but embraced my carefully crafted public projection. You enjoyed my writing, you laughed, you nodded knowingly, you were shown up when I finished 8th in the Villanova facebook brackets. You validated the part of me that mattered most because though I would have loved being popular and having a million friends call me to hang out every weekend, that would just be the surface. Every word I’ve written, every piece I’ve…”
And here Santo paused either from loss of words (which would be a career first) or for dramatic effect.
“Every piece I’ve composed, is more representative of the real me than the person you’ll see walking across campus will ever be. So when some of you say you like this article or that one, you like this line or you make sure to read whatever I write every week, you are really telling me I am your friend. And that means more than any party or night at a bar ever could.”
The crowd erupts on this point, jumping to their feet while simultaneously exploding with applause. The “one more year” chant starts back up, and Santo is forced to pause to allow the commotion to come to an end.
“However, like Jay-Z I want to leave on top. ‘as fate would have it Jay’s status appears to be at an all time high, perfect time to say goodbye.”
Everyone returns to their seats, fearing the statement that would most certainly follow this quote, but still clinging to the hope that the red shirt senior columnist will stay on the Main Line.
“That is why I entered the draft. I wanted to turn all of this momentum you helped me build into some sort of career, because more than anything I want to do this forever and as I learned, if you don’t jump when you get the chance, you may never.
The silence returns, this time neither mournful nor anticipatory, but rather disappointed. All involved feel the same kind of deflation fans feel in the stands after having their hearts ripped out as the ball clanks to the side of the rim and falls to the court, where for the first time it isn’t important. There are no groans or boos, but rather broken hearts and hollow eyes.
“But I didn’t hire an agent for a reason. Sometimes you need to test the water with no intention of going swimming. And with that in mind, I will return for my fifth year.”