A Moment to Treasure

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. Among the sea of caps and gowns, over the illustrious strains of Pomp & Circumstance… there he was, James Gandolfini, sitting one row behind my family at my college graduation. I could hear the buzz building behind me, as people started to notice. Why is he here? Is he speaking? Does he know someone who’s graduating? The fact that a celebrity was sitting among us was clearly the highlight for the thousand or so graduates on that day, some nine years ago, on the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University.

I remember being very aware of his presence, as every time I glanced over my shoulder at my own little cheering section… there he was. When I walked up to receive my “unofficial” diploma (the real one would arrive several weeks later), I carried a small index card with my name written on it to hand to the Dean. “Jamie Lynn Ryan” they announced. As I looked up at the sea of faces, my eye once again fell on Mr. Tony Soprano himself, only this time, he was looking right back at me. And with a big grin and a wink, he began applauding. I couldn’t believe it. 

I found myself glancing over both shoulders to see if the acknowledgement was meant for someone else, but there was no one there. As I walked back to my seat with a giant, silly smile on my face, I began quietly counting down the seconds until I could run and tell my family what had just happened. He smiled at me. He winked. He clapped. For me. What a doll.

Following the ceremony, we all realized that he was indeed there for someone, his own niece, who we had apparently been attending school with for the last four years. Who knew! And once I was able to meet up with my family, my brother revealed that he had gotten to the graduation tent a little early to reserve a row of seats, only to find Mr. Gandolfini sitting there already. Reluctant to disturb him at that point, they exchanged a slight greeting. Now, as the crowd began to disperse, people began tentatively approaching him to shake hands, ask for an autograph, maybe a photo… Me, I didn’t want to bother him.

Ironically, that very occasion came up this past Father’s Day, as my brother and I reminisced over how we should have stopped to talk to him - and then came the tragic news just three days later. What a shame.

I didn’t have the honor of truly knowing Mr. Gandolfini, but his presence surely touched me on one of the most memorable days of my life. May he Rest in Peace.

 

{Published: June 26th, 2013}

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