[slideshow id=3]When Alex Gecewicz and Mike Ragonese heard the news that Osama bin Laden was killed in a US raid in Pakistan, they each grabbed a pair of shoes, a flag, and left Mendelsohn Quad on a mission: to celebrate and spread the news to their peers.
For two hours early on Monday morning, they toured the campus making sure that every passerby knew the fate of bin Laden and revel in hugs, high fives and chants of “USA! USA!”
“You won’t meet a prouder American,” said Gecewicz of himself. “We’re here to spread the beauty of freedom.”
Gecewicz was decked out in an American flag, a red t-shirt, and skin-tight hunting pants. Between the two of them, Gecewicz was the more outgoing, luring anyone within eyesight into a conversation about the good news and, if they were willing, a photo op.
Ragonese was the more reserved accomplice, tagging along for motivational support. A sophomore living in the same hallway as Gecewicz in Amman, he is preparing for a summer trip to Virginia to attend the Marines’ Officer Candidate course. He was sporting military-grade boots and a Marine Corp flag worn as a cape over his clothes.
The enthusiasm displayed by the duo rubbed off on just about everyone they came into contact with. A group of about 10 fraternity members leapt into a photo with Gecewicz, while two women accepted hugs on their way towards the Student Activities Center.
At the Kelly Dining Center, where CNN was being broadcast to the few dozen students still out getting food, Gecewicz and Ragonese led an excited conversation about bin Laden’s death with a few students sitting and eating.
The motivation for the roving celebration stemmed from a realization of the magnitude of what had just been announced by President Obama earlier in the evening, said Gecewicz.
“You can bet your bottom dollar that there isn’t one firehouse in the city that isnt excited,” he said. “If there’s one mother who can say ‘my son didn’t die in vein,’ it’s huge. Tonight shows what we can do as a country.”
For Gecewicz, who goes by Jiz (“It’s a long story,” he explains), Sunday night’s news represented a moment of triumph for the country and for the community of servicemen and women that he himself had hoped to be a part of.
The Albany native attended the Christian Brothers Academy, a military school where he rose to a JROTC platoon leader, before enrolling at Stony Brook, and is the first member of his immediate family to attend college. Medical conditions (“shoulder issues, a seizure and some other stuff”) rendered him ineligible for military service, so he took up football and was a redshirted freshman last fall.
Listening to him speak for just a few minutes and it’s clear that Gecewicz still cares deeply about the military and has tremendous respect for everyone who serves in it.
“You can bet that those guys who did this are not college educated, never spent a day in a college classroom,” he said. “I wanted to serve because I really realized how unbelievable this country is.”
Unbridled patriotism is not uncommon in times of national tragedy or, in the case of today, national revelry. But to listen to Gecewicz and Ragonese speak about it makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe, we can put aside differences–politically, culturally–just long enough to make some progress as a nation.
“I have a writing teacher who’s very far left,” explained Gecewicz, who identified himself as a registered Democrat. “She’s made some comments that I might have disagreed with, but that’s the beauty of it; everybody has their own opinions. There’s no race on this flag. I really think people should sit back and unite.”
If you’re on campus Monday, keep an eye out for Ragonese and Gecewicz. They plan on continuing their celebration another day.
“I will definitely be wearing this flag tomorrow,” said Gecewicz. “I might be wearing pants this time.”