Piazzas, Gruvers Give Moving Anti-Hazing Speech To Penn State Greek Community
Eisenhower Auditorium was so silent you could’ve heard a pin drop, and the air thick with tension.
Row after row in the audience was filled with hundreds of members from Penn State’s Greek life, a large number of them sporting letters from their respective chapters. Other than an occasional sniffle from a student trying to hold back tears, this was the quietest members of the sororities and fraternities have probably been since they decided to go through the recruitment.
Their silence was because of the four people standing on the stage: Jim and Evelyn Piazza and Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver.
They are the parents of Tim Piazza, the Penn State student who died in a hazing-related incident at Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in 2017, and Max Gruver, the LSU student who suffered the same fate the same year.
The Piazzas and the Gruvers spoke to a crowd of Penn State students on Sunday for their anti-hazing program talk entitled, “Love Mom and Dad.” The families gave their talk twice to capacity crowds in Eisenhower at the program, which was hosted by the Offices of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Compliance.
They’ve spoken at various schools all over the country in an effort to combat the rising number of hazing-related deaths that happen every year in the Greek community. They began their program by telling their sons’ stories, playing a montage of newsreels that Penn Staters have become all too familiar with since that fateful night at Beta. Throughout the presentation, several photos of both Tim and Max were displayed from a projector.
“It’s the last time I was able to look him in the eyes and tell him I loved him, that I would miss him, and that I was really, really proud of him,” Rae Ann Gruver said as an image of her and her son embraced in a hug on the screen behind her. “I told him, ‘This is your time. Go shine your light on the world.’ Twenty-nine days later, my son would be dead because of alcohol hazing in his fraternity house.”
After Gruver detailed her son’s story, beginning from the night he arrived at his frat house for a hazing event that brothers called “Bible Study” and ending with his death, she paused to wipe the tears that have started to fall down her face. The crowd was silent as the image of Max shifted into one of Tim, and then the Piazzas stepped forward to their microphone.
The Piazzas took a different approach telling Tim’s story. They instructed Greek members to close their eyes and imagine that what happened to Tim happened to a sibling or best friend.
“Imagine that your brother is pledging a fraternity, and it started last night,” Evelyn Piazza said. “You get a call from your brother’s roommate saying he didn’t come home last night, and that’s not like him. He always comes home. You decide something’s wrong and you call the hospital to see if he’s there. They say, ‘Yes, there’s been an accident. Come right away.'”
As the Piazzas continued to tell Tim’s story from the perspective of their other son, who was the first one to inform their parents about what was happening with Tim, there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. Sorority sisters leaned their heads on each other’s shoulders and clutch each other’s hands, while fraternity brothers closed their eyes.
The tension began to build as Tim’s story ends.
“A nurse pulls your mom forward and tells her to kiss her baby goodbye,” she continued, her voice shaking. “He goes into cardiac arrest again, and we all let him go. You and the ten medical personnel in the room who look at you with sad eyes. And there it is. He’s dead.”
The stories from both sets of parents felt real, like you were there the nights Tim and Max died and both sets of parents made it clear that what happened to Max and Tim could have easily happened to any person sitting in Eisenhower Auditorium.
It’s a sobering thought, and it caused students to listen as the Piazzas and the Gruvers explained what hazing is, how to stop it, and the current legislation that’s in effect in Pennsylvania, which has made the act of hazing a felony.
Toward the end of the program, Stephen Gruver left the audience with a simple, yet moving request.
“If you see something, say something,” he said. “Do the right thing. Let this law empower you to say, ‘It’s not happening in my house. I’m gonna make a difference, and I’m gonna create change.'”
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About the Author
What would you do if someone interrupted your class to make a panini?
“What’s truly important is, obviously, faith, family, and friends, and today we woke up with a great reminder [of that]. If you didn’t go home last night and hug your kids, you should’ve — that’s what I do. At any second, it could be gone.”
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