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Vai's View: Our baby is headed off to college

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 1:39 p.m. MDT

Lana Sikahema delivering her commencement speech to her Merion Mercy Academy classmates. (Rich Ormanowski) Lana Sikahema delivering her commencement speech to her Merion Mercy Academy classmates. (Rich Ormanowski)

Our baby graduated last Sunday.

The youngest of our four children, Lana, graduated with her Merion Mercy Academy class of 118 young women, the 128th class to do so from MMA, an all-girls Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia. Every morning for four years, Lana awoke at 5 a.m., left our home at 5:30 for seminary, then took a bus to Philadelphia her freshman and sophomore years — then got to drive her last two years. She's largely spent her high school years at home by herself, her older brothers all away at college and/or missions.

We'll have her home this summer before she's off to BYU in August. A full month of my summer will be spent in London at the Olympics, so my time with her is limited. We're both keenly aware of that, so we avoid the subject, though now and again I catch myself looking at her wistfully and wondering where all the years went.

Lana Sikahema and her father Vai prepare to take in a Broadway play as part of their annual birthday tradition during Lana’s youth. () Lana Sikahema and her father Vai prepare to take in a Broadway play as part of their annual birthday tradition during Lana’s youth. ()

It's hard to imagine how quickly the time has flown by us. Lana was born in August 1993, during the final training camp of my NFL career. The Eagles' coaching staff allowed me to leave camp for a few days to be with my wife in New Jersey for her birth. Her brothers all have memories of watching Dad play football; she doesn't. For most of my NFL career we lived in Gilbert, Ariz., where Lana lived all of two months before we returned to Philadelphia to take a TV job, so our New Jersey house is the only home she's ever known.

Our birthdays are five days apart, so since she was about 5 or 6 years old we've had annual dates where her mother dressed her up and we'd go celebrate, just the two of us. Those first few years, we'd drive two hours north to Manhattan for a nice dinner then see a matinee of "Annie Get Your Gun," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King," and other shows on Broadway. As exquisite as the shows and fine dining were, the four-hour round-trip drive was, for me, the highlight, because Lana would talk endlessly about her preschool teacher, Mrs. McNaughton, class projects and classmates; her dance teacher Ms. Trish and each of her ballet friends; and her Sunbeam teacher and each Sunbeam. As she got older, her schedule became increasingly cluttered, especially in the summer months with softball, soccer and dance, and since our birthdays are in August, sadly, our dates happened less frequently.

Lana Sikahema and her father Vai celebrate their birthdays in Manhattan prior to taking in a Broadway play. () Lana Sikahema and her father Vai celebrate their birthdays in Manhattan prior to taking in a Broadway play. ()

When she started high school, Lana applied to and was accepted to Merion Mercy Academy, a rigorous, prestigious private school that's only five minutes from my TV station. Initially, she took a bus after seminary from our New Jersey home to school in Philly, but in the evenings I'd pick her up and brought her to my office where she did her homework at my desk while I prepared for my 6 o'clock broadcast. When the news ended at 6:30 p.m., we'd drive the 45 minutes back to New Jersey. As we drove home, she would pepper me with questions about stories she watched on our news program, which led me to print stories on the economy, politics, foreign affairs, sports, religion and yes, general conference talks — one, two, sometimes three a day — that I would leave in her backpack for her to read during her lunch break. As we'd drive home after school, we'd have these wonderful discussions about the articles that I left for her to read. That was our routine until she was old enough to drive her junior and senior years.

Lana Sikahema with her Merion Mercy Academy classmates and her parents, Vai and Keala Sikahema following graduation. (Rich Ormanowski) Lana Sikahema with her Merion Mercy Academy classmates and her parents, Vai and Keala Sikahema following graduation. (Rich Ormanowski)

I like to think that those discussions on so wide a range of topics early in her high school years is partly why she became an officer in the National Honor Society and co-editor of her school newspaper as a senior. Lana was so widely respected and revered, she was chosen by the faculty and board of trustees to give the commencement address at graduation. We sat proudly in the audience with two of her brothers and close friends as she delivered her remarks with such poise, flawlessly mixing humor, nostalgia, counsel and gratitude for her Catholic school education. I was as proud as the board of trustees, administrators, faculty and classmates when she said, "As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have personally felt Merion accept and welcome me, which has created tender memories, including those of sharing my faith in my theology classes and even in the hallways or in lunch. As my classmates and teachers embraced me for who I am and for my faith, they have exemplified what Merion Mercy encourages us to be: people who live mercy and seek justice."

Lana Sikahema and her parents, Vai and Keala. () Lana Sikahema and her parents, Vai and Keala. ()

Lana concluded with this, which brought the entire room to its feet:

"Parents, take a look at your daughters. It has been about 17 or 18 years since you held us in your arms as infants. We quickly grew, figuring things out for ourselves through minor destructions, Saturday morning cartoons, and mimicking those who surrounded us. We were able to mutter 'da-da' or 'ma-ma' in a blink of an eye. Then came our childhood where we built forts, chased the ice cream trucks with quarters flying from our pockets, and played dress-up in our mothers' closets. We went to preschool and finger-painted, then kindergarten, first grade, second, third, all the way until eighth grade. Then what happened? We started our freshman year at Merion Mercy with clean slates and four short years later, you woke up this morning to us young women wearing white gloves and dangerously high heels. Although we may have grown up, we will always be your little girls."

Lana Sikahema delivering her commencement speech to her Merion Mercy Academy classmates. (Rich Ormanowski) Lana Sikahema delivering her commencement speech to her Merion Mercy Academy classmates. (Rich Ormanowski)

My little girl is headed off to college, and I'm a mess.

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