From convocation to commencement, students come and go through the College with a flourish. When it comes to ceremony, the College doesn’t fall short, especially this year, when celebrating its 150th anniversary.
What most don’t realize is that behind the scenes, there’s one woman who is the ultimate party planner, the mastermind behind the memories that the College community will enjoy long after the events end.
Recognized by her ever-present cup of coffee, contagious school spirit and often by her sidekick, Roscoe the Lion, she’s Janis Blayne-Paul, major events director and chief Sesquicentennial officer.
Ten years ago, however, Blayne-Paul was designing buildings, not putting together the events that would take place inside them.
As a registered architect, she was living her dream of designing buildings, including schools and libraries. She had attended architectural school at Penn State because all she wanted to do was draw and see her blueprints come to life.
But in 1995, Blayne-Paul’s life turned upside down. On her way to a meeting at Waterfront Park, the stadium for the Trenton Thunder baseball team that her architectural firm designed, she was in a car accident that left her with permanent nerve damage in her neck and a slipped disk.
Looking at her now, full of energy and always on the go, it’s hard to tell she once suffered so much physical pain – or that she still does.
Reflecting on the aftermath of the accident, she said, “I couldn’t draw anymore.” She temporarily lost the ability to pick up or hold things in her right hand. While out on disability, Blayne-Paul was bored by all her free time at home. As she waited around to heal so she could be an architect again, she decided to put her time to better use as a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), a mentoring organization for children and youth.
Blayne-Paul credits the treatise “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu with giving her the comfort she needed when unable to fulfill her passion for architecture. “(Tzu) explains ‘the Way,’ which I have come to believe in and it is my guiding strength,” she said, showing a serious side to her usually lighthearted personality.
“‘The Way’ is the term used in Taoist tradition to mean ‘life’s process,’ or the natural flow of life,” she said. “A follower of ‘the Way’ flows naturally with the current of life’s river. Swimming against the tide makes life more difficult. We must allow life to carry us along.”
On that note, Blayne-Paul allowed her volunteer work at BBBS to guide her toward the opportunity to serve as events director for the organization. Then, while working for BBBS, a friend alerted her to a job opening in the alumni and development office at the College, a job she took in Nov. 1999.
Until June 2001, Blayne-Paul served as major gifts/planning giving officer and put together galas, an annual tennis and golf outing and other events to raise money for scholarships. When the position of major events director was created in 2001, she was the person who filled it.
When plans for celebrating the College’s 150th anniversary started forming three years ago, Blayne-Paul was the natural choice for chief Sesquicentennial officer.
“It’s a huge undertaking but just an amazing opportunity to be able to create new traditions,” she said. “I feel really honored to have been given the opportunity to do it.”
Blayne-Paul works with the Sesquicentennial committee, which consists of faculty, students in the class of 2005 and alumni, as well as with other organizations on campus that want to play a part in the festivities.
Although planning for the Sesquicentennial bash started a few years in advance, Blayne-Paul said the countdown to Founders’ Day, which was Feb. 9, was nonetheless frenetic since returning from Winter Break.
The day before Founders’ Day, a Tuesday, Blayne-Paul arrived on campus at 8 a.m. and stayed straight through Midnight Madness. She then boarded the bus to the “Today” show at 4 a.m. From New York City, it was back to the College for the party in the Brower Student Center and the Leadership Convocation in the evening. Blayne-Paul didn’t return home until 10:30 p.m on Wednesday.
After her hectic days on campus, Blayne-Paul said that home is her place to relax. “I just crash and sleep,” she said. “I’m either at full speed or zero.”
Part of what makes Blayne-Paul’s job so demanding is that she must strike the interest of a student body that can be apathetic when it comes to school spirit. “I figure if I’m excited and passionate, someone’s going to get on my bandwagon,” she said. “A hundred people are going to get on my bus (at 4 a.m.),” she said, alluding to the “Today” show trip.
“People want to have something to rally around and they want to feel good about where they go to school and where they work,” she said, explaining the importance of the Sesquicentennial celebration. She believes the College “accomplished so much and has come so far” as an institution over the past century and a half. “I think the celebration gave us a platform to share this story,” she said.
And while the College’s official birthday has passed, events to commemorate the Sesquicentennial aren’t over yet. April 20 is Campus Colors Day, when students wearing blue and gold will be rewarded with gift certificates and giveaways, thanks to a partnership with Ewing businesses. The big finale comes during homecoming weekend in October.
“The opportunity to be a part of and the chance to help shape the history of this institution is one whose profound impact won’t be fully realized (for many years),” Blayne-Paul said, thinking ahead to the next 50 years. By then, her hope is that her successor, the chief Bicentennial officer, will look back on 2005 and wonder, “how can I top what they did?”