Commentary: #stayfocused

Richie Mulhall is a multimedia news major and the sports editor for The Kent Stater. Contact him at rmulhal1@kent.edu.

Richie Mulhall is a multimedia news major and the sports editor for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Richie Mulhall

“There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Make sure you use one of those to thank god for everything you have #stayfocused.”

Some people might have long forgotten this popular tweet that cropped up on Twitter shortly before the Fall 2014 semester began, but I never did. It has always stayed with me.

The tweet, fired off by the late Jason Bitsko, a senior Kent State football player who passed away before the semester began, was meant to inspire people to give thanks for their good fortune and stay focused on accomplishing their goals.

When a long, trying semester like this one drags on and tries to pull you down with it, sometimes it’s hard to follow Jason’s candid advice. Sometimes it becomes near impossible to stay focused. The message, with all its best intentions, quickly becomes fuddled by September, lost in all the jumbled noise surrounding our everyday lives.

Everyone enters that point in the semester when they’re just done. Like right now, for example, when Thanksgiving break is over in the blink of an eye and Christmas break feels so close, yet so far away.

Around this time of year, people shut down like the simple flip of a switch and are three classes, two exams and one headache away from calling it quits.

I was always one of those people, and up until this past semester, I would be ready to quit right about now if it wasn’t for Jason Bitsko’s tweet.

My friends and family kept me pressing on, plugging ahead through probably the hardest semester I’ve ever faced in college, but that tweet was the one thing that kept me going more than anything. One person helped me stay focused, and that one person was Jason Bitsko.

I know it might be hard to believe that a deceased person I’ve never even met before could push me to do my best, but being raised Catholic like Jason, I am well aware that God often works in mysterious ways.

It really is strange how you get to know people sometimes, though. Some people meet people over dinner. Others at a sporting event or a party.

I met Jason before he could even utter, “Hello,” and for the one week-long period in which I had the pleasure of getting to know him, the brief connection changed my life forever.

Jason came into my life on Aug. 20 when he was found dead in his off-campus apartment on a warm, sunny Wednesday morning. It was a little less than a week before classes started, and I was getting ready to go on a lunch break from Kent Stater training week when a few of my coworkers rushed up to me to inform me of terrible news.

“We think a Kent State football player might have just died,” they said.

Tweets came pouring in, flooding Twitter with sentimental offers of condolences.

“Heavy hearts today. The world won’t be the same without you,” one of the tweets read.

My mind raced and my heart dropped as the news hit me and my adrenaline kicked in. A story had to be written, and fast.

I had never covered anything like this before, so I became a bundle of nerves as I tried to gather myself and crank out a quick 20-minute story confirming Jason’s death.

Coverage remained constant all the way through Welcome Weekend. I spoke with teammates, coaches, friends and even Jason’s mom, Pam, over the course of the long week.

By the first day of classes, I was emotionally drained. There were some nights when I even cried myself to sleep thinking about Jason.

How could a perfectly healthy, happy 21-year-old kid go to sleep and never wake up, just like that? I angrily looked to the sky, searching for answers but found none.

I briefly considered quitting the Stater, and I didn’t even have one week as editor under my belt. I had never quit on anything in my life before, but during that last week in August, I came pretty close.

I was an emotional wreck until it finally hit me one night as I stared at myself in the mirror and fought back tears. I was looking at Jason’s death from the wrong angle, reflecting more on his death and less on the message.

I lost my focus and needed to regain it, and Jason’s last tweet resonated with me and spurred me to action.

Jason had a message for everyone before he died. It just took a while for his message to reach me.

His final tweet inspired me to work hard to accomplish my own goals this semester, and his message stayed with me so much that I decided to dedicate my semester to Jason, just as the football team dedicated their season to #54.

During those hard nights when life was kicking me in the teeth, I snapped myself out of the haze and asked myself, “What would Jason say?”

Jason’s tweet woke me up, and I finally realized the tweet meant so much more than just cruel irony. It was a call to action.

And to pay Jason’s message forward, as you all enter finals week, I encourage you – rather, I implore you – to heed this advice.

Finish the semester on a good note. Stay strong. Stay positive. #stayfocused.