Life brings change, whether we ask for it or not. As an optimist, I try to find positivity in change, even when it is sudden, devastating, and unfair.
Although August 25th, 2018, was a day that changed my life, it is not the one that altered my life forever. Michael’s death has shredded my heart in unimaginable pain. But the day that changed my life forever was September 21st, 2017. That was the day I met Mike Gilmor.
We sat in a restaurant, at the end of a long table full of Fulbrighters, close to the market square in Warsaw. Mike talked and asked me questions, before eventually deciding to show me his proudest accomplishment: his video ‘Gilmor Style’ from high school, featuring him dancing and lip syncing to “Gangnam Style”.
While it may have taken some time for me to discover all his puzzle pieces and put them together, I eventually figured out that Mike was one of the most accomplished, humble, men I’d ever met. He was high school homecoming king, graduated fifth in his class (2013), and a three-sport athlete (basketball, baseball, football). He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in his free time. Mike graduated from Providence College in 2017 Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s of science in biochemistry and a business studies certificate, and was executive treasurer of the school’s famous club BOP. He was the Highest GPA in Concentration awardee for the biochemistry department, the chemistry department, and the business studies department. Somehow, he made time for his roommates and friends, and for intramural sports like innertube water polo, volleyball, and basketball.
Mike went on to Fulbright in September 2017, where he taught at Łomża State University of Applied Sciences. He volunteered teaching in elementary and high schools outside of his time teaching at the university. He organized an end-of-the-year lake trip, truly a friend to everyone in our program. Mike and I traveled to over 20 countries and over 50 cities; he taught me how to find cheap flights and how to say ice cream in every language. He carried my backpack when my legs slowed from exhaustion, he watched over me when I feared large crowds, public transit, and shared hostel rooms.
My life has been blessed with many memories of Mike. We were a perfect team as we traveled through Europe; I handled organizing our activities and Mike handled getting us there. I witnessed him smiling through the Scottish highlands. I ate countless baguettes with him in France. I fell asleep on him in a church in Italy, and ate Greek salad with him on a balcony in Santorini. I stood near him at our Fulbright Thanksgiving chorus rehearsal, listening to his deep voice project above others. I kayaked with him in Croatia and taste-tested every type of chocolate Brussels had to offer. We ran and ran and ran through cities, countrysides, along rivers, in the rain, in the snow, taking in every moment and singing Queen’s “don’t stop me now” at the top of our lungs.
When we got back to the States, we didn’t realize we would have such limited time together. We spent time with each other’s families while trying to find our footings in school and work. Mike wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a doctor or lawyer or businessman, conflicted with choice since he was qualified for everything. We didn’t know where our lives were headed, but we didn’t mind because we had each other, and that was the only constant we needed to be truly happy.
Mike showed his love and gratitude for me and for those in his life every day. He never took a single day for granted. What some would consider overbearing love, I found to be one of his most admirable qualities. He was honest with himself and with me, and he spread his love and light with everyone in his life, not a single minute wasted.
Michael taught me so many important life lessons and his daily actions demonstrated to me a lot about how I want to live. He taught me to stop taking life too seriously. He taught me to appreciate the small moments. He taught me to have fun, every single day.
However, the most important lesson Mike taught me was to never fear being myself. He matched my wit and sassiness with his own. He sang loudly in public and danced with me in the streets. He wrote silly poems and made up songs. He obsessed over puzzles, not stopping until every piece was in place. His texts and calls were full of puns and jokes and smiles. He was proud of his ability to eat a whole pizza and a large ice cream cone in a single sitting. He was truly himself every day, and he never feared being too “out there”; his silliness and light-heartedness brought people closer to him and made a lasting impact. Mike was purely and wholly full of love.
Mike’s favorite quote was “don’t become so focused on the end result that you miss the miracles along the way.” May we never forget that no matter how long we get on this Earth, it is the people that will make all the difference in life; the people are the miracles.
Life brings change, whether we ask for it or not. As an optimist, I try to find positivity in change, even when it is sudden, devastating, and unfair. And I have Michael to thank for that.
In honor of Michael’s amazing life on Earth, Pamela Howland, a world renowned pianist and fellow Fulbright scholar from Poland last year, will perform three benefit concerts in Michael’s memory. The concerts will be in early 2019, and will take place in Huntington, NY, Washington DC, and Warsaw, Poland. Proceeds from the concerts with go toward a Michael Gilmor Engagement Fund for Fulbright students and scholars in Poland who wish to contribute to the greater Fulbright mission in Poland, engaging with schools and community members outside of grant responsibilities. The dates and locations for the concerts will be announced soon.
If you are looking for a way to contribute to Michael’s honor, please donate to the Michael Gilmor Scholarship Fund (which you can access online). You can also purchase the song Pamela Howland composed for Michael and I on Spotify, called Golden Summer (Michael and Briana’s Song). All song proceeds go toward the Michael Gilmor Scholarship Fund.
Michael’s legacy will forever be remembered.
Over $80,000 has been collected for scholarships in Michaels’s name. They will be awarded to students at Providence College and John Glenn High School.
A mass was held at Providence College and in Lomza Poland for Michael.
A flag was flown over the Capital Building in Washington DC on Michael’s Birthday.
100 trees were planted in Michael’s name in California.
A tree was dedicated to Michael on the campus of Providence.
Providence College BOP made bracelets with the logo “BE LIKE MIKE” that are worn regularly by students on campus.
Huntington High School students made Rafiki Bracelets that are in memory of Mike.
“What Would Mike Do” bumper stickers and key chains have been made and shared.
Pamela Howland has composed a piece of music in honor of Michael.
Lomza University has a tree planting planned in Michael’s honor.
Fulbright Polska will have an Engagement Fund established in Michael’s name.