The ceremony began with the President making remarks and the beginning of a call of names of the recipients. I was number four on the list. And once I was onstage, I was actually able to have a little fun with President Obama as you can see from this photo.
I had been thinking about joking with him for a month. I was still undecided as I approached him. But when he said, “Come on up to get your award, Sylvester,” I determined to go ahead, and he delighted by my effort. In fact, for a few seconds the President was still laughing as can be seen in video of the event.
So the ceremony was a lot of fun, especially because my wife Dianna and our twins were there in the room. In addition, having Chancellor Kirwan – University System of Maryland – and President Loh – CEO for the university’s College Park campus – join us on this day was extremely satisfying.
I had a friend seated in the back of the room right in front of the members of the press. After the ceremony, he said you could hear a buzz go up among them wondering, “Who was this guy that the President seemed so comfortable with and vice versa?”
But my fun resulted in a faux pas. I was so taken with the President’s reaction to the joke I told him that for the rest of the time I was onstage, I was “non compus mentis.” After he put the Medal of Science around my neck, I forgot to stand next to him for a picture I dearly would have loved. Oh well, no good deed goes unpunished.
The award ceremony also gave me another occasion to briefly reflect on how fortunate I have been to be a part of the University of Maryland community. Similar to a line from a song, they – after my family – have truly been “the wind beneath my wings.”