Over the past three years, Elizabeth Grass Weese has received her fair share of text messages from her daughter, Hannah. But none quite like the one that flashed across her smartphone screen eight months ago.
“Hey, mom. Want to build a bridge?” it read.
Weese was puzzled. So rather than respond via text, she phoned her daughter, a student at the University of Miami, to find out just what she meant. UM, Weese learned, wanted to build a pedestrian bridge across its iconic Lake Osceola, and Hannah wanted to know if Weese would fund the project.
Weese agreed, and now the 210-foot-long, 13-foot-wide Fate Bridge spans the eastern portion of Lake Osceola. UM unveiled the newest addition to its campus infrastructure on Wednesday, dedicating a bridge that provides direct access to its Student Center Complex and increases campus mobility.
“Bridges help connect and unite communities in real and tangible ways,” UM President Julio Frenk said at the dedication, explaining that the new Fate Bridge, in a sense, is a symbol of the “exciting” academic journey students are embarking upon.
The bridge is named in honor of Weese’s late father, Alexander Grass, who turned a Scranton, Pennsylvania, discount store into Rite Aid, one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains.
Grass, who used to carry a copy of English poet William Ernest Henley’s Invictus in his briefcase, lived his life by the poem’s last lines: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” The Weese family hopes those lines, which are inscribed on the bridge, will inspire UM students, serving as a message that they can “set the path to their lives” while attending the University, said Hannah, who graduates next May with a degree in English literature.
Hannah admits she was half-joking when she sent her mom that now-memorable text message last March, but was ecstatic nonetheless when Weese threw her entire backing behind the project, donating $1 million through the Grass Family Foundation for the bridge's construction.
Weese said her gift “not only teaches Hannah and her other children how to give but the responsibility of what goes along with giving.”
“You can’t give and just walk away,” she said. “You have to be a part of the community.”
While holding hands, Weese and her daughter christened the bridge in classic style, leading dozens of students, administrators, faculty, staff, and guests in a ceremonial first crossing, starting from its entryway in the Eaton Residential College parking lot.
Even before its completion, the bridge provided a learning experience for some students. Under the direction of College of Engineering Professor Antonio Nanni, a group of students oversaw the installation of composite reinforcements on the bridge’s deck and installed digital sensors to monitor bridge strength.
Designed by Arquitectonica and built by Moss Construction, the new overpass will be a bridge well-traveled, noted Sergio M. Gonzalez, senior vice president for University Advancement and External Affairs. “Probably every student who attends UM will walk over this bridge at least once,” he said.
New construction in the area—a parking garage is currently under construction, and plans call for a new student residence hall in the area—underscores the bridge's importance of providing direct access to the Shalala Student Center and law and music schools, said Richard Jones, associate vice president of Facilities Design and Construction.