Four members of Iron Arrow, the University of Miami’s highest honor society, shared how their experiences at UM influenced their lives during the “My U” event Thursday night in the Student Activities Center.
The panel, which included Norm Parsons Jr., Elizabeth Rodriguez, John Routh and Jonathan Vilma, represented a diverse range of alumni who returned to speak about the impact they left on the U.
Parsons, the former director of the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center and the Miller School of Medicine Wellness Center, recently retired after committing 43 years to improving UM. His leadership proved crucial to the construction of the Wellness Center in 1996.
“We knew that if we were to have an impact on people’s lives, we would need a center for recreation to improve people’s heath,” Parsons said.
Rodriguez, who graduated with a law degree from UM in 1989, made history in 1985 by becoming Iron Arrow’s first female chief.
“I was very proud to be the first female chief of Iron Arrow,” she said. “We had to redo everything – the plaques, the books, the directories, the membership data – to account for the recent acceptance of women into the organization.”
Routh, the executive director of the UM Sports Hall of Fame, brought the Canes spirit to the community during his time at UM. He was brought to UM by late baseball coach Ron Fraser to become the Miami Maniac in 1983 and entertained fans as the mascot for 10 years. He then graced football games as Sebastian the Ibis from 1984-92.
“As a mascot, I could anonymously do anything, within reason, to have fun and entertain the crowd,” Routh said.
Vilma, an NFL linebacker, was part of the Hurricanes’ national championship team in 2001. When he arrived at UM, his skills were immediately put to the test when he had to take an injured senior linebacker’s place.
“I was definitely nervous because I did not expect to get into the first game of the season,” Vilma said. “But once I got out there, everything was all right.”
Vilma attributes his success to the rigorous training he received at UM, which built a strong sense of camaraderie that contributed to the Hurricanes’ national championship in 2001.
Audience members curious about the history of UM proceeded to ask the speakers how the school has changed.
According to Parsons and Routh, UM barely had any trees or grass in the 80s. Only after UM President Edward T. Foote II arrived and initiated beautification policies did the campus gradually transform into the verdant wonderland seen today.
As far as the impact that Iron Arrow has had on her, Rodriguez praised the unique opportunities that the organization gave her, like the ability to build multigenerational relationships with a close-knit network.
Vilma, who has helped open a school in Haiti, said that Iron Arrow inspired him to lead philanthropic projects.
When he heard about the Haitian earthquake in 2010, he wanted to do more than donate money, which he viewed as a short-term solution. Instead, the future of Haiti revolves around educating the youth, who can then use their knowledge to give back to their communities, he said.
“My U” was hosted by Iron Arrow, a selective honor society that aims to educate students about the history and traditions of UM.
Iron Arrow’s chief, Caitlin Giles, hopes the event provided an opportunity for those not familiar with the society to learn more about it.
“We brought it as an opportunity for people outside of Iron Arrow to learn about UM’s history and traditions,” said Giles, a second-year law student at UM. “We want to share our stories with the alumni, students and the community at large.”