In the summer of 2016, short first-person stories from U students, staff, alumni, faculty, and others began appearing weekly on the U’s social media channels and website under the moniker “Humans of the U” or hashtag #HumansOfTheU. A direct ode to Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York blog, the U’s effort has the same goal to share powerful human stories that help people connect.
“These stories turn the institution into a collection of real human beings with unique life experiences and perspectives,” says Annalisa Purser, associate director of communications, who helped get Humans of the U off the ground. “At the end of the day, that’s really what the U is all about—learning and growing together and helping society move forward.”
Here, we highlight just a few of the many inspiring stories.
“I’m 98 years old. I came to the U and graduated in the first class of pharmacists in 1950. Five years later, I entered dental school and worked nights as a pharmacist to support family and pay for my education.
I practiced dentistry until I was 70. I originally started driving buses for UTA, who trained me, and I drove during the 2002 Olympics. Afterwards, I came to the U and now work about 20 hours per week. I mentor 70 drivers and ride with each of them about every three weeks. I tell them all to be cautious and stay within the speed limit.
I’m grateful for this opportunity and what I have that gets me out of bed in the morning. I’ve seen a lot of changes up here. When I was here as a student, Presidents Circle was the only thing there was to the university.
Every day I work, I associate with a great group of people, all of whom are very courteous and friendly; they are very good to me, and I love them all dearly.”
—Ralph Moffat BS’50, past driver/current mentor for Commuter Services drivers
“I grew up Jewish and gay in Utah, so appreciating being different was a matter of survival. In fact, being able to capitalize on even an inkling of hope or to find positivity where others might see the opposite is, I’ve come to appreciate, my superhuman strength. I call myself a practicing optimist because having hope hasn’t always come easily. It’s a muscle I’ve had to exercise, but developing the skill of seeing what’s good saved my life and has now even shaped what I do for a living.
So as wife and new mama, a human rights activist, a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune, and the leader of the communications and marketing team for the U’s College of Fine Arts, I get to spend the majority of my waking hours sharing positivity. In my role as a board member of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Utah, I help turn the pain of inequality into the transformation of discriminatory policies, ultimately creating a more fair and just Utah.
Here at the U, I not only get to promote the diverse array of arts experiences on campus, but I get to help illuminate how the arts go beyond just aesthetic and entertainment, and act as agents for change that shape our perceptions, our research, our understandings, and our lives.
It’s a beautiful world, and I’m just living in it.”
—Marina Gomberg BS’06, associate director of communications and marketing, U College of Fine Arts
“My son, Ethan, passed away unexpectedly on Feb. 26, 2014, just a few days shy of turning 14 1/2. He died from massive cardiac arrest secondary to chronic pulmonary hypertension, which we didn’t even know he had. My world disintegrated that day. The thing is, when something falls apart, we have the opportunity to figure out a way to put it back together. In this case, the pieces are creating a very different picture from any I could have imagined, one that will always have a hue of sadness.
Ethan’s departure sent me on a spiritual journey, causing me to examine my beliefs about life, death, and everything that comes before and after. I’ll never be the same Karen as I was prior to his passing. I have decided to make meaning of Ethan’s death and live my life according to how I believe he would’ve wanted to live his.
Ethan was a huge advocate for social justice causes, so I continue to be as active as possible. He was a thinker, which causes me to slow down and think before acting. He enjoyed life, leading me to be kinder to myself and chill more often! There are so many marvelous aspects of Ethan. He has been, and will always be, a source of inspiration—reminding me that life is short and we can use our brief time here for the benefit of all that exists on our planet. Beginning with myself, I can share compassion, loving kindness, and healing.”
—Karen Cone-Uemura PhD’08, licensed psychologist at the U Counseling Center
“People are my life. Since I can remember, I’ve longed to feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself, to work and strive for equality and community as openly and truly as I can. I've always been drawn to a public mindset that promotes education as the vehicle for a morally conscious environment, where people can learn self-respect, a deeper group identity, public skills, and the values of cooperation and civic virtue.
My academic training is grounded in diversity studies and promoting social justice through education. An important part of working with students at the English Language Institute has been to act as a cultural and academic liaison and as an area/university insider for my students’ success and growth. I deeply enjoy working with these amazingly brave young people, who are culturally, racially, linguistically, and academically diverse.
Currently, my time is divided between my 1-year-old daughter, my work at the university, and my music, while still finding time to get out and ride my Harley. After hours, I play in a threepiece chamber folk-rock group called Harold Henry, which is starting to gain traction. We consist of guitar, drums, cello, and harmonica laden with rich vocal harmonies. Influences of our ‘whiskey-drenched’ style of music include folk, blues, soul, indie, and classical.”
—Jeremy Hansen BA’05 MEd’08, English Language Institute instructor