Recently, I took a vacation with my family on the North Shore. One evening, after a long day of hiking and sightseeing, I relaxed at our resort and noticed a curious painting in our condo. It was a beautiful painting on wood by James Meyer titled “Whale Watching at Split Rock”.
The painting depicts a person in a small boat watching a humpback whale cross the surface of Lake Superior just below the Split Rock Lighthouse. I thought to myself, how can a saltwater marine mammal survive in freshwater? Well, they can’t. But that doesn’t stop people from fantasizing about whale watching in the Great Lakes.
In fact, there are many websites on the internet that deal with whale watching in Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Lake Ontario. Some charter boat companies even advertise whale watching tours. A Facebook site claims it is home to the Lake Michigan Whale Migration Station on Beaver Island in the northern part of the lake.
Such fictions make life fun.
During my teaching career, I have come across many funny fictions. A few years ago, for example, I bought an Evergreen State College t-shirt in Olympia, Washington, with a large soccer ball in the middle and the inscription “Evergreen – Undefeated Since 1967”. Of course, Evergreen never had a football team, so they haven’t lost a game since their inception in 1967.
Another of my favorite fics is Okoboji Fake University. It was started in 1975 by brothers who owned a clothing store in Milford, Iowa to help increase sales. This school has an official seal that claims it was founded in 1878 in the Lake Okoboji area of northwest Iowa.
Over the years, the activities surrounding this fabricated university have grown. In addition to being able to choose from a wide selection of Okoboji University school clothes, it is also possible to take the “official” school entrance exam online. One of my favorite bits of information is that KUOO Radio in Spirit Lake, Iowa calls itself the official campus radio station and sponsors the annual football game between Okoboji University Fighting Phantoms and Our Dame every September 31 (note that September only has 30 days).
A few months ago, two of my former students contacted me with a request to be their officiant for their wedding ceremony. The couple met in my class years ago and have been dating ever since. When I was honored to be asked to preside over the finalization of their wedding vows, I told them that I should do some research to find out if it was legally possible.
I discovered that I could become a wedding officiant if I received an ordination from a religious organization. A colleague of mine suggested that the easiest path would be to get ordained through the Universal Life Church (ULC), as he did years ago. The ULC is the church that grants the most online ordinations.
I went to the ULC website and became an ordained minister in less than 10 minutes. The ULC was founded in 1962. Over the past 60 years it has ordained more than 20 million ministers, including Barbra Streisand, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lady Gaga, Adele, Sir Ian McKellen and myself.
To become an Officiant with the State of Minnesota, I had to file a “Marriage Officiant Certificate of Deposit” with my county. They demanded that I include “ministry credentials” and a reputable letter from a religious organization. ULC provided me with both documents.
As an ordained minister with the ULC and officially registered with the state, I am now legally authorized to preside over wedding ceremonies. This is a case where fictions are so intertwined with reality that they become non-fiction.
My former students are far from the only ones who have a friend or family member as their wedding officiant. According to wedding planning website The Knot, 51% of couples had friends and family as officiants in 2020, up from 37% in 2015.
On Labor Day this year, I proudly officiated a beautiful and elegant wedding ceremony for my former students at Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Dave Berger of Maple Grove, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for 37 years. He is now a freelance writer, substitute teacher and wedding officiant..