Last Thursday evening the campus was blessed to host—in person—the “annual” 1886 Society celebration. Beginning with Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel and then moving on to the Breen Center for the Performing Arts for the awards ceremony, before travelling back to the north side of campus for the reception, this event was two years in the making for the hard-working folks in the Advancement Department.
So this year’s edition of this gala affair honored the 2020 recipients of various alumni awards, including the second-ever recipient of the Young Alumnus Award, Phil Yuhas ’06. The award was the brainchild of the Young Alumni Council under the leadership of Paul Leaderer ‘06, and is meant to honor an alumnus under the age of 35 who “has set and achieved exemplary standards for himself both personally and in his chosen profession.” Phil is an Assistant Professor in the College of Optometry at Ohio State, and is an expert in the field of the effects of traumatic brain injuries on the retina and on ocular biomechanics in glaucoma.
It was an honor to be asked to speak about Phil for the video produced for the awards ceremony, and I was very happy to be able to talk about his life as a teacher and how much he means to his students. It just so happens that a good friend of my daughter Mary Kate happens to be a recent graduate of the College of Optometry and was able to give me a number of stories about Phil, only some of which I was able to relate to the camera.
In February of 2020 I sent a text to (now) Dr. Emma Thompson asking for her assistance and that of her classmates. Within 4 minutes I had Emma’s promise of help and within 45 minutes of that first text I had an email with several stories from her and her classmates. One of the stories that did not make the video came from Emma’s brother Ian ’19 who happened to wear a Chariot Races shirt to see Dr. Yuhas. As Emma put it, “the Chariot Races shirt brought a smile across the usually professional demeanor of Dr. Yuhas as he thought back to old teachers and the old memories.”
That is the Phil Yuhas that I know - the smiling presence that gleams with an obvious care for others. When my son Kevin was making his final decision on his college choice he made trips to both of the schools that were still in the running. After three days in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it looked like Notre Dame was going to finish a distant second, and as I sent my wife Ann off to South Bend with Kevin my last and only hope was Phil Yuhas, with whom Kevin would be staying during his stay on campus. The rest is history, and in our house it has a status in legend and lore quite a few notches above the “win one for the Gipper” speech.
I couldn’t wait to see Phil and meet his wife and children, but my anticipation did not come close to matching that of Ann. Seared in her memory is that time with Kevin and Phil during those moments that have helped to define our family. Kevin, bald from chemotherapy and on crutches, standing with his ever-smiling Ignatius friend, creating a memory that has been emblazoned on the souls of three people - two of whom embraced on Thursday evening.
In his work with his students and his patients, in his relationships with family and friends, and in all that he does, Phil Yuhas - again in the words of Emma - “has kept Ignatian values close to his heart.” It is those values that brought him this well-deserved award, but for Phil it’s not about accolades, it’s about all those whose lives he has touched - and helped to heal.
Do you know an outstanding young alumnus from Saint Ignatius High School?
Nominate him for the Young Alumnus Award!