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Happiness is …

1:47 PM  Jun 10th, 2011
by Matthew Dewald

“Are you happy?” You probably don’t hear that question very often.

What about, “How are you?” You’ve probably heard that already today, that polite question we use to greet strangers and friends alike. But these “how are you” exchanges don’t really tell us any more about happiness than today’s weather tells us about the season. Sometimes it snows in July, after all.

But, “Are you happy?” Now, that’s a different, deeper question, the kind you save for after all the other guests have left the party, when you’re settling in for the wee hours with a dear, old friend. In the act of taking stock — of wandering through longings and joys, through sadnesses, setbacks, and moments of revelation and accomplishment — there is an intimacy that begets further love and friendship. I could ask any acquaintance or stranger, “How are you?” But, “Are you happy?” — that’s something I’d ask only a real friend.

The human desire for happiness is nothing new, of course. Questions about what it is and how to attain it stretch at least as far back as Aristotle and the ancient Stoics, who each had their own answers. UD professor Jack Bauer is one of a group of current social scientists applying the scientific method to the study of happiness, and in this issue he offers some of what he and his colleagues have learned. Bauer’s research, and his story here, focuses on stories — how the ways in which we make sense of the facts
and experiences of our lives affect our happiness.

Though the research is complex, the conclusions might not surprise you. While a multibillion-dollar marketing industry works 24/7 to persuade us that the things it’s selling will make us happier, Bauer’s research points to head-scratchingly obvious advice we all too often forget: Look for experiences that help you change and grow. Do things on behalf of others. Spend time doing what you enjoy with friends and family you love. All easier said than done with the pressures and expectations of our lives, not to mention our immersion in a culture of buy-more-stuff-now. But if you can funnel out the noise and pull it off, you increase your chances of finding more happiness, more often.

And isn’t that advice another way of talking about what we often call “community” at UD? Years after walking in the graduation line, what remains with alumni across generations, more than anything, are people and experiences. Tossing a football on the KU lawn. Getting that concept down before the exam or that scholarship letter in the mail. Figuring out coin-operated laundry machines. Going on that retreat or planning that charity 5K. Fending off crushes and falling in real love. Finding the friends still with us today.

Bauer might call those stories of growth. We call it UD.

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The bittersweet joy of a happy ending

1:12 PM  Mar 8th, 2011
by Matthew Dewald

I had, as usual, great seats at UD Arena. Center court, about eight rows behind the scorers’ table. It was Senior Day for the UD women’s basketball team.

The first basket came about 45 seconds into the game. Senior Ebony Gainey, who had missed a shot just after the opening tip, drove from the left and put up a layup that touched the glass and dropped through the net. At the 18:02 mark, coach Jim Jabir pulled her, and Gainey’s career stat line was final. Points, 2. Shooting percentage, .500. Minutes played, 2.

If you go to a lot of any team’s games, you come to know the faces on the bench and even feel a sort of first-name familiarity. Ebony had always seemed more coach than player to me, but just a couple of days before this game, I’d learned her story from ESPN. A two-time all-Ohio selection from Dayton’s Meadowdale High School, Ebony was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy weeks before the first game of her freshman year as a Flyer. It is a disease that attacks the heart muscle and that killed Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers in 1990.

Ebony’s older sister Kenyattie had died in her sleep of a heart-related ailment just months before Ebony’s diagnosis. On her doctor’s advice, Ebony’s college career was over literally before it ever started. For four years, she remained part of the team, but not a player on the court.

That was why I’d only ever seen her in street clothes on the bench, and also why the 1,300 of us there gave her a standing ovation at team introductions, a loud cheer when she took her first shot, another standing O when she made her next one, and a third when coach Jabir pulled her out of the game and into his arms.

The rest of the game wasn’t what I’d call a pleasure to watch, an uncharacteristically halting contest without flow for much of the second half. When Fordham’s coach called a late timeout, I leaned to the person next to me and joked, “Does she think she has a play to call for when you’re down by 16 with 44 seconds to go?” That kind of game.

But we won handily, and the player I know best, senior co-captain Kristin Daugherty, had a solid performance. Twelve points, seven rebounds in 25 minutes. I was there particularly to watch her last home game. I do my best to get to Senior Day games. I managed to catch three in the fall (volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer), and I’ve got a few circled on my calendar this spring. In the rhythms of university life, only graduation day has such bittersweet joy.

I knew it would be an emotional game for Kristin, but she held it together well until almost the very end. Fouled with a couple of minutes left, on the line knowing she was about to come out, the tears came. Two quick baskets. A few quicker steps to the bench. Hugs down the line from coaches and teammates. A standing O from us. We gave another a few moments later when the team’s third senior, Aundrea “Puna” Lindsey, came out.

Later, waiting in line near courtside with my sons for post-game autographs, I found myself next to the mother of Kristin’s biggest fan, 7-year-old Lauren Hinders. She sits in the front row wearing Kristin’s No. 40 every game, and Kristin always gives her a pregame high-five. Or maybe Lauren’s giving it to Kristin.

As Lauren played in the seats with her little brother, I asked her mom how she thought Lauren would handle Kristin’s departure from the team. It turned out that Lauren had given it some thought. She counted on seeing Kristin in the stands next year watching her sister Kari Daugherty, a sophomore guard. Lauren had talked of maybe rooting for star Justine Raterman, but she’ll be a senior next year. Might be a little too soon to go through that again.

Autographs signed, our two boys and my wife and I climbed the concrete steps to the concourse, where I noticed a man carrying a framed No. 13 jersey near the west Arena doors. Ebony’s father. As I knelt to tie my younger son’s shoe, I caught Mr. Gainey’s eye and told him what I’d told Kristin in the autograph line, congratulations. He smiled at me, a perfect stranger, and said thanks, then carried his daughter’s memento out to his car in the parking lot.

In another two months, I thought, he’ll be back, this time joined by other parents doing almost exactly the same thing, proud fathers and mothers carrying under their arms the diplomas of their daughters and sons.

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Class notes considered

9:27 AM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Matthew Dewald

This issue of the magazine includes exactly 238 class notes. They run nearly 20,000 words. In my time working on the magazine and its predecessor, UDQ, I’ve easily read more than 10,000 notes, most of them two or three times each as part of our proofreading process.

They’re still my favorite section of the magazine.

There is an Italian saying, that when the game is over the kings and pawns go back in the same box. Class notes reflect that egalitarian spirit. In one note, you might read of a manager promoted to vice president; in the next, a parent promoted to grandparent, both notes set in the same font and size. In class notes, they do not compete.

If you read Page 44, to take just one example, you’ll learn that Father Marty Solma is now provincial of the Marianist Province of the U.S. and then that Ann Donovan Bowman and her husband, Bob, just retired and enjoy passing the days eating lunch together and watching the golfers on the fairway of hole 
No. 1, just off their deck. Both notes 
reveal something of the mysteries of this life.

Throughout class notes, true loves are married, babies born, vacations taken, careers enhanced — the everyday stuff of the lives we cherish. Many of us wouldn’t have a prayer of naming last decade’s Nobel or Heisman winners, but we’d go on and on if asked to name those who’ve loved and supported us. We might admire the former, but it’s the latter who bring us happiness and meaning.

In this 250th anniversary of the birth of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, I wonder if it is useful to ask whether this is a Marianist way of reading the class notes. Chaminade’s sense of mission was influenced profoundly by the revolutions of his times. As a young priest, he lived under a French monarch whose presumed divine right marked his power. “Le roi le veut,” he pronounced when he wearied of debates. The king wills it.

And then one July day in 1789, the king’s power evaporated, replaced by a people’s assembly that devolved into an intemperate mob, forcing oaths on priests, prisons on nobles and the guillotine on countless souls, including the Terror’s architect, Robespierre himself. The revolution had replaced the tyranny of a monarch with the tyranny of a mob. The dignity of the individual counted for little under either.

It was this chaos that Chaminade fled when he went into exile in Spain. He returned committed to finding new methods for new times, founding a religious family of laity, sisters, brothers and priests working toget-
her and dedicated to Mary’s mission. He ensured a dignified place and voice for all who share the Marianists’ deep faith and commitment to meaningful service — through leadership when necessary, as it so often is.

I see this place and hear this voice in class notes, where the listings proceed without favor. For years, I’ve had a private tradition of always beginning with “In Memoriam,” the notices of deaths, when I proofread each issue’s class notes. It’s a powerful reminder that these aren’t the classifieds they resemble at a casual 

In each few sentences, there is the dignity and beauty of God’s children — the immense joy of newborns like little Evan James Mooney (Page 51) and the compassion of caregivers like Michael Licata (Page 47), a coordinator of substance abuse for his county sheriff’s office. I want to know so much more about Michael Gaffney’s yearlong stint as Muhammed Ali’s personal photographer (Page 44), Patricia Brennan Scott’s fabulously titled book (Page 49) and Bob Ciullo’s Flyer gamewatches with his infant twin grandsons, Robbie and Rezo Lucarelli (Page 42).

A class note in this magazine signifies a bond that simultaneously uplifts and transcends each individual. That’s why I love them so. The participants in this Marianist community are blessed indeed.

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2:42 PM  Sep 22nd, 2010
by Matthew Dewald

I wanted to go to new student convocation in RecPlex. Honest. But there was another new student, just down the hill from the chapel, who needed me more.

As President Daniel J. Curran welcomed first-year students and SGA president Jim Saywell told them they’ll know they’re Flyers when they spontaneously yell, “Go UD,” to tour groups of prospective students, I sat on a tiny chair in a classroom at Holy Angels School, kindergarden orientation for my 5-year-old, Gus.

He spent it on the playground outside while we adults talked very seriously of matters like curriculum and shoe-tying, bathroom breaks and bus-riding protocol. Behind the parents’ questions was a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. We each balanced them on the scales of our hearts at this moment of letting go.

Our Marianist principles commit us to education for adaptation and change. Change can prompt reflection, as it did for Janet Filips, who came to campus this summer to visit with housemates from College Park and hallmates from Marycrest, some of whom she hadn’t seen since she walked the line at graduation.

And she peeked in the windows of that College Park house and walked the hallways of Sherman Hall to see what she would feel.

Change can also prompt discovery. To keep his Blue Sky Project growing, Peter Benkendorf opted to uproot himself, his family and his arts program from the Chicago area to the University of Dayton, where his daughter had enrolled. From the move is growing a mutual revelation: what visiting contemporary artists can offer UD and the city of Dayton, and what our insistence on community can offer to usually solitary artists. Both sides have much to gain.

And sometimes change can sneak up in ways as subtle as a tiny footnote in an obscure scientific article. That happened to alum Ed Timm, and as a result he and UD researcher Khalid Lafdi are making strides toward alleviating the suffering of glaucoma patients, a very welcome change indeed. When new worlds open before us, we react to find our place in them and shape what they and we become.

Janet, Peter, Ed and Khalid are doing that, and so are our students at that convocation I missed.

Even as a kindergardener at age 5, Gus is discovering how to shape himself and our world. Over the last month my wife and I are doing the same, uncovering daily the space in our hearts to watch Gus grow in knowledge and love and faith.

And in a community that nurtures that, how can there not also be great hope?

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