A couple months ago, Gabrielle Labolito, STHM ’13, sent her father, longtime university photographer Joseph V. Labolito, a text message.
“Are you around?”
For 22 years, Joseph’s been around Temple—and so have both of his daughters, Gabrielle and Brittany, STHM ’10. His two daughters would be at most football games—on the field if they were lucky—tagging along as their father took photos. They were both at the Liacouras Center grand opening in 1997 and happily posed with Hooter. Both girls were well aware that they never knew when they’d bump into their father between classes or at a tailgate.
As a freshman, Gabrielle lived in 1300 Residence Hall, the closest building, by coincidence, to her father’s office at the time in the former University Services Building. Now, she’s an operations coordinator at Temple University Fitness and a graduate student.
So, “Are you around?” is not an unusual question for her to ask her father.
However, that’s not how a parent’s brain works. Especially not Joseph’s. Worried, he texted her back quickly.
After a few more exchanges, it became clear that nothing was wrong, and Gabrielle made her way across campus to visit her father. She handed him the letter she had just received—her official invitation to be the Commencement speaker for the College of Education.
Joseph was, of course, proud. He didn’t spend too much time thinking about it. But now, with only days to go before Commencement, it’s all sinking in.
“The greatest accomplishment in my life is my family. My wife and I were able to raise our children and make education important to them—that’s big,” Joseph said. “The fact that Gabrielle has gone on to earn an advanced degree and has been chosen to address the graduating class just confirms that my wife and I have accomplished the most important thing in our life.”
Gabrielle is graduating with a master’s degree in adult and organizational development. And after watching hundreds of thousands of students walk across the stage and taking photos of them during every Commencement ceremony since he started working at Temple, Joseph will finally get to watch his daughter walk.
“I didn’t get to walk in May for my undergraduate degree,” Gabrielle said, explaining that she had to complete an internship that delayed her graduation a few months. “It was rough for me at the time, watching all of my friends walk and I didn’t get to.”
The same thing happened to her sister.
“Ironically, our dad never got to see either of his daughters walk in the May Commencement,” Gabrielle said. “We’ve been through some traumatic stuff over the last three years.”
Her mother and Joseph’s wife Eileen Labolito lost her battle to an aggressive cancer in late 2014, only five months after she was diagnosed. The years that followed were riddled with several other close relatives passing away, including the Labolito’s family dog.
“I thought being the Commencement speaker could be such a celebratory moment,” Gabrielle said. “I wanted to do it for my family. It’s not something for me.”
When Gabrielle walks across the stage May 10, it will be a celebratory moment. A celebration of her two degrees, her five years of management experience and her family.