Fate Bridge honors late Alexander Grass through poetic lines with personal meaning

Senior Hannah Weese is the grandaughter of the late Alexander Grass, founder of Rite Aid Corporation and benefactor to the new Fate Bridge. Weese hopes the dedication on the side of the bridge will inspire students to live by her grandfather's philosophy. Erum Kidwai // Staff Photographer
Senior Hannah Weese is the grandaughter of the late Alexander Grass, founder of Rite Aid Corporation and benefactor to the new Fate Bridge. Weese hopes the dedication on the side of the bridge will inspire students to live by her grandfather’s atiohilosophy. Erum Kidwai // Staff Photographer

I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

The last two lines of the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley were words that the late Alexander Grass lived by. These words that meant so much to him and his children will be inscribed on the Lake Osceola pedestrian bridge that will open officially on Oct. 28.

Spanning the stretch from the Eaton Residential parking lot to the Lakeside Patio, the 210-foot bridge will be engraved with the lines of Henley’s poem on the floor of both entrances. Through a naming gift, his family lent those words to the bridge’s name: Fate Bridge.

Grass’s granddaughter, Hannah Weese, a senior attending the University of Miami, hopes that the words will inspire other students as much as they have inspired her.

“The words are important to my grandfather because he came from nothing and he really believed that if you want something and you worked hard for it, you would get it,” Weese said. “I think that’s very indicative of his life in general, and he – in my opinion – passed that mentality onto his children, who passed it onto their children. You have to work for everything that you want, and those lines demonstrate that you can get whatever you want as long as you try hard.”

For Weese, those words have been a comforting mantra. Those two lines of her family’s motto are inscribed on her back as a tattoo.

“The way I take the last two lines, you are in charge of your own fate. Your choices define what happens to you in life,” Weese said. “Also, it’s fate that I came to Miami after I came on a visit and I loved it, so it’s one of those things that work out. I love this school. It means a lot to me and I had an opportunity to leave my mark.”

Weese first found out about the bridge initiative in the spring. Through the Grass Family Foundation, named after Weese’s grandfather, they donated $1 million toward the building of the bridge that would provide greater mobility for the campus community.

“When I first found out, I believe my exact words to my mom by text were, ‘Hey mum, want to build a bridge?’” Weese said. “I asked half-jokingly, but when I found out she was considering it, we contacted the alumni relations and from there, we got the ball rolling.”

A self-made businessman who founded the Rite Aid corporation, Grass always believed in giving back to the community. He joined the Navy and went to the University of Florida to get his law degree using the G.I. bill. He started a chain of businesses and his own foundation in 1972, when he made it a point to give back to the community. After a 10-year battle with lung cancer, Grass passed away on Aug. 27, 2009.

“My father had an incredible life,” Elizabeth Weese, Hannah’s mother, said in a press release. “One full of choices and decisions. He followed his gut and stood by those decisions. Funding a bridge that will be well-traveled by students in a place where choices abound seems very profound to me. I think he would be proud.”

While Grass had a fantastic life, his daughter finds it difficult to point to a single event that defined him.

“It is hard to choose a greatest accomplishment,” she said. “I would say his greatest accomplishment is the legacy he left behind for his children and grandchildren, [his] strong values and the financial strength to continue his charitable givings at home and abroad.”

It is those strong values that the Weese family seeks to honor with Fate Bridge. Construction began in May and was led by Moss Construction Management and students from the School of Engineering under professor Antonio Nanni. Engineering students assisted in the completion of the bridge by installing glass fiber-reinforced polymer rebars, which will help prevent future corrosion, and sensors that will help monitor the longevity of the bridge.

Weese was glad that students assisted in the construction of the bridge. She describes it as her “baby” and always tries to walk past it to see its development.

“At first, all we saw was a skeleton of the bridge,” Weese said. “Over time, it looks more and more functional. I am proud that UM students were part of this. For them, it must mean a lot to have their work be a part of campus.”

Usually, a constructed establishment would take after the names of the donors sponsoring it. However, Weese and her mother wanted a short title. They used the bridge by the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center as inspiration in choosing a name with meaning.

“The other bridge, called the Love Bridge, was short and sweet and to the point,” Weese said. “It had such a nice story behind it, so I thought naming our bridge the Fate Bridge would tie in nicely.”

The bridge is part of a master plan to improve the circulation around Lake Osceola. Janet Gavarrete, associate vice president of Campus Planning and Development, emphasized the convenience and functionality of the bridge, especially with regard to easing foot traffic from commuters who park in the more than 1,600 parking spaces in the Pavia and Merrick garages.

“The importance is enhancing walkability on campus,” Gavarrete said. “The bridge provides a direct connection from the Pavia and Merrick garage to the center of campus rather than going through the University Center bridge or Stanford Residential College … This will also serve as a transformative feature of our campus.”

A special ceremony to dedicate the structure and to open it officially will be held at 11:15 a.m. on Oct. 28. Weese and her mother will by joined by President Julio Frenk and other university officials to step foot on the bridge for the first time.

“I hope people on campus, when they walk over it, will take something from it,” Weese said. “There’s something in those words for everyone.”