Editor’s note: NC State senior Ian Peterson, a member of the a cappella group Grains of Time, died Feb. 27 following a five-month battle with cancer. Peterson worked as a public relations intern for Campus Enterprises. Jennifer Gilmore, director of marketing and communications for the division, wrote this remembrance.
What makes a job enjoyable? Is it what you do, or who you work with? I’d say it’s a little of both, but if I had to choose one, I’d go with the latter. I’ve had to do some crummy jobs along the way, like cleaning the bathrooms as a lifeguard in college, but it was fun because I did it with my best friend Susan.
There have been a few places I worked where the job was fun, but the people weren’t. That was miserable.
I’ve been on the staff here at NC State for almost five years, and fortunately I have an enjoyable job working with enjoyable people. One of the best parts of my position is working with students. They come in as wide-eyed freshmen and leave four years later prepared to take on the world. Social media affords me the opportunity to stay in touch and watch them start their first jobs or go on to grad school. They friend me because we share this common bond of love for our university, and often I am someone who can help them solve a problem or answer a question.
I have had several students work with me in the marketing and communications office who are studying communications, marketing, nutrition, graphic design and other related areas of study, and they all keep me young. Every day I try to remember what it was like to be their age and what kind of experiences I would have wanted as I prepared to go out into the real world. What a blessing to have that kind of influence on the next generation!
There was a particular young man who I met while visiting one of our Port City Java coffee houses a couple of years back. He was a barista, and when he heard I was the director of marketing for Campus Enterprises, he immediately asked if I was hiring students, as he was studying public relations and wanted some experience.
For a year and a half, he worked with us. He planned events, wrote news releases, staffed information tables and schlepped boxes and posters from one place to another. He made us laugh with his stories of college life, crazy girls, shagging on Thursday nights at North Hills, making the perfect espresso, singing with the Grains of Time, and his inability to maintain equilibrium on his bike, sporting a new injury each week, it seemed. He taught us how to moon walk, and in turn we introduced him to Jennifer Holliday and Donna Summer, much to his chagrin. It was nothing but good times when he was in the office.
Last summer he didn’t feel good. He was working several jobs and singing with Grains of Time, and we just chalked it up to being spread too thin. I offered him melatonin for sleep and B complex for energy, but he refused, saying he’d be OK. He had caffeine (his drug of choice). He complained of flu-like symptoms, and even our coworker John Starbuck observed that he was getting mighty thin.
On Oct. 5, our intrepid intern was diagnosed with lymphoma. He texted us to report he would be in treatment during fall break and that he’d let us know when he’d be in next. At 21, he had no idea what lay ahead. At 45, I did. I cried at my desk, not for me, but for him and his family. It was touch-and-go at first, but once he was stabilized, we went to see him in the hospital and swore not to cry because he only wanted the people who could crack jokes in the face of cancer to come visit. We stayed for a while, and when we left, I hugged him and kissed his curly head. Awkward, I know, for your boss to kiss you on your head, but when cancer’s involved, all bets are off. You’re getting kissed on the head whether you like it or not.
In the coming months, he was scheduled for eight rounds of chemo, which took his signature curls, but never his zest for life. This was just a detour on the road that would be over in April, and with some convalescing over the summer he would be back in school this fall. He was still doing projects for us from home, and he came to the office in December to narrate a few videos we produced (he had a golden voice). But something happened in late January-early February. With his immune system compromised, an insidious infection took over his body, and he had nothing to fight it with but his will. He hung on for three weeks, but the infection damaged his lungs beyond repair and he passed away on Feb. 27.
So here I am with nothing but memories of a great kid and friend who was one of those people who made my job the best. His voice is on our videos, his picture on some of our marketing literature, his name on a Raleigh Public Relations Society award he won in the student category last spring. How lucky I was to be his boss and to have the privilege of getting to know him here at NC State. As his classmates prepare to graduate this spring, I will watch enthusiastically as they take their place in the world and mourn the missing young man who will not walk for his diploma, get that first job and make me proud over the years to come. Yet, I have made so many new friends through knowing him (including his mom and all the college girls who loved him) who, like me, will be forever changed by the time they spend with him. And I hope that as they enter adulthood, they will honor his memory by being changed and recognizing who influenced the good choices they make in their life. Was our Ian perfect? No! But was he motivated? Yes. Did he love people? Yes. Did he share his gifts and talents? Yes! He made the world a better place, and he certainly made it more interesting!
As for those videos he helped us with, one of them was for an award entry for Food Service Director Magazine’s Goldie Awards, which were announced earlier this week at the Menu Directions Conference in Tampa. University Dining (a part of Campus Enterprises) not only won the Goldie in the college and university category, but swept the entire competition to receive the Grand Goldie! Our dietitian, Lisa Eberhart, said that when they played the video entries and she heard Ian’s voice, she just knew we were going to win. Our director, Randy Lait, accept the award and was asked to make a few remarks. Winning the “golden egg” trophy was on his bucket list, so this was his moment. As he addressed the audience, he spontaneously dedicated the win to Ian. When the giant golden egg arrives in a few weeks, Ian’s name will be inscribed on it as a reminder of what he meant to all of us. You can watch the winning video by clicking on green slider at the top of our web page: www.ncsudining.com, but if you are one of those people who loved Ian, get out the tissues because it will make you cry.
Thank you, Ian Peterson, for all you did for us and for being a terrific example of what it means to be a member of the Pack. We will never forget you, friend.