Connections Forged in Love

We continue showing up for each other over the years.

by Kevin Graham ’10, ‘12G, Ph.D.

Kevin Graham and friends at a wedding outside Linehan Chapel

[clockwise from top left] Kevin Graham ‘10, ‘12G; Shawanda Green ’09; Janelle Hill ’08; Gregory Hyde ’07; Cassandra Thompson ’07, ’11G; and Leon Hill ’08 at the Linehan Chapel wedding of Caroline and Isaiah Tolbert ’07, ’16G.

Kevin Graham officiating his friends' wedding

Kevin Graham ’10, ‘12G officiating at the wedding of Crystal Austin and Gregory Hyde ’07.

November 12, 2021, is a significant date for a cadre of Nazareth College alums, especially Gregory Hyde ’07. It was his wedding day, and although his spouse Crystal Austin did not attend Nazareth College, members of classes 2007 through 2011 gathered to celebrate their love. Despite knowing me during my less mature years at Naz, Greg had somehow convinced Crystal that it was a good idea to have me officiate their nuptials – fear not, I rose to the occasion. This sort of trust and support is emblematic of the deep connections fostered in the dorm rooms, classrooms, and dining halls of Nazareth College. Over the years, we made it a healthy habit to show up for each other, and love has consistently been a thread that pulled the group together. For example, friends from classes 2006 through 2012 gathered when Isaiah Tolbert ’07, ’16G got married to his wife Caroline Tolbert, as well as when Leon Hill ’08 and Janelle Hill ’08 had sealed their love.

Kevin Graham and friends at a restaurant table

Leon Hill ’08; Gregory Hyde ‘07; Isaiah Tobert ’07, ’16G; and Kevin Graham ’10, ‘12G; dining out.

Kevin Graham and friends group selfie

[clockwise from top left] Kevin Graham ’10, ’12G; Chanel Wright ’08; Gregory Hyde ’07; Paul Brown ’08; Chiqueeta Lea ’08, ’11G; Janelle Hill ’08; and Leon Hill ’08 at the Hills’ baby shower.

Lest I get carried away with the romantic conception of the term love, I would offer key moments in my own life where Naz grads were integral to my personal and professional journey. Namely, when I was fumbling through my Ph.D. program and needed encouragement and someone to proofread nearly four hundred pages of a dissertation. Greg convinced Crystal that it would be nice to proofread the document (be wary of Greg's persuasive skill sets; he is a lawyer).

Likewise, in the throes of preparing to give my TEDx talk, Ricky Kotak ’11 and Stephanie Santos ’13 sat through unpaid hours of me fine-tuning the talk, and as always, they offered tea (Rick's British) and much needed support. Moreover, Isaiah Tolbert continues to be one of my key go-to's for counsel on all things that require tact and emotional intelligence; we had a running bet that he would cry during his Best Man speech at Greg's wedding. Out of love and respect, I will not share the outcome of the bet.

Kevin Graham and friends wearing Halloween costumes

Kevin Graham ’10, ‘12G; Bianca DeJesus ’11; Gregory Hyde ’07; Emelyn Santos ’11; and Isaiah Tolbert ’07, ’16G at a Halloween gathering.

Kevin Graham and friends in the stands at Kidera Gymnasium

At the Naz gym, seated front row: Kevin Graham ’10, ‘12G; Judith Sully ’11. middle row: Bianca DeJesus ’11, Emelyn Santos ’11, Yajaira Rosa ’13. back row: Joshua Méndez Aracena ’11, James Jaramillo ’13, ’16G.

Judith Sully ’11, since high school, has been my guru on taking the moral high road, of course with style and grace (she is a fashion icon). Emelyn Santos ’11 is my encourager to embrace all aspects of life and she is always there to offer tough love (she hails from the Bronx).

If I continue to go down memory lane, I can produce a dissertation on the transformative and inspirational moments that I have had with my Naz family, like Leon Hill being the first Black man I met with a library in his dorm room, Mohammed Ahamed ’10, ’16G's astuteness and wisdom, or Cassandra Thompson ’07, ’11G's financial acuity.

Interestingly, these friends represent the very few Black and Brown students in their respective graduating class. Many of us found each other by seeking the comfort of familiarity, culture, race — Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria — or any indicator of sameness. Nonetheless, what has kept us together over the years is deep-seated appreciation, continued support, friendship, and above all, love. As the African saying goes, “sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.”

Kevin Graham starts a new role mid-June 2022 as site director of Break Through Technology, Samueli School of Engineering, at University of California, Los Angeles.