ORONO, Maine — Hundreds of University of Maine Honors College alumni, students and friends will raise their steins at 10 p.m. EDT Thursday across the country — and perhaps the world — to celebrate the life of the college’s dean, Charles Slavin, who enriched the lives of many and died unexpectedly at his home Monday.
The event was created on Facebook by Kristen Kuhns, a former student of Slavin’s who now lives in Atlanta, Ga. Since it was originally posted Monday night, more than 500 people across the world — including places such as Washington, D.C., Illinois, California, Ireland, South Korea and Bangladesh — said they would participate one way or another.
The history of the stein runs deep at the University of Maine, where the “Stein Song” has been played with pride since 1904, but the stein has another significance for the Honors College, Slavin and honors students.
When Kuhns was working at her home business on Monday and received an influx of Facebook messages that Slavin had passed away, she stopped everything.
“I felt so close to him. He was such a major part of my life,” Kuhns said in a telephone interview, her voice cracking.
The Atlanta woman said she owes a lot of her successes to the Honors College — and more specifically Slavin, who encouraged her to publish her first thesis with some colleagues and wrote a recommendation that helped her get accepted for a graduate program at Georgia State University.
Kuhns went out for a run to process the news and called her family, and when she returned home, she noticed her Honors College stein on the kitchen counter — a token every honors student receives the night before commencement.
The alumna said she wanted to celebrate Slavin’s life in the same way he helped celebrate the accomplishments of her and other students — by filling her stein and raising it in his memory.
“He was an adviser, a confidant and a friend,” Kuhns said.
After texting back and forth with former classmate Morgan Brockington, Kuhns had the idea to create a Facebook event, calling all alumni, students and friends to raise their steins in solidarity at 10 p.m. Thursday — Orono time.
Two days after it was posted, more than 500 Facebook users have responded, saying they will participate one way or another.
“It’s awesome that so many people want to share that same moment,” Kuhns said.
The tradition of receiving the steins to celebrate commencement began in 1999, when honors student Molly Barker suggested the idea to Slavin, according to Honors College graduate and state Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, who is also the college’s coordinator of advancement.
“Charlie said we should call them the Honors ‘vase,’” Cain said. “And we would have a ‘vase-testing’ the night before the commencement ceremony to make sure they didn’t leak.”
The state representative said Slavin always “wanted to celebrate the successes of students” and that was an important part of the Honors College’s role in building a sense of community. Cain said she plans on celebrating the dean’s life at Woodman’s Bar and Grill at Orono, where Slavin held many of his “vase-testing” events for students.
She said she anticipates many others to be present.
“I can guarantee you that wherever everyone meets, there will be laughter and tears everywhere,” Cain said.
Because many current students won’t be around the Orono campus for Thursday’s celebration, Cain said the university is going to plan a bigger, more formal event in the fall.