Having attended at least one — and sometimes two or three — commencement ceremonies every year for the past 30 years, and having heard at least one — and sometimes two or three (or four!) — speeches at each of those ceremonies, I consider myself something of a commencement speech connoisseur about what works, what doesn’t, what is memorable, and what isn’t.
I have heard government officials from President Bill Clinton to Chief Justice John Roberts, entertainers from Billy Joel to Aaron Sorkin, media mavens from Bob Woodruff to Donald New- house, and even from the master wordsmith himself, Bill Safire (twice).
Among all these speeches — including the six or eight speeches I myself have given — the single most compelling charge to graduating students came from civil rights leader and master orator Thomas Nathaniel Todd.
His charge — his challenge, in fact — is more fitting for graduates from the University of Dayton than any other college or university, in my opinion. And it is more fitting now than at any other time in our nation’s history.
At spring commencement, I shared his words as a challenge to the Class of 2018:
“Do not use your degree just to make a living. Use your degree to make a difference.”
This is the responsibility a UD diploma carries with it. Our alumni know that. Our alumni live that. As our newly minted graduates leave the comfort zone of campus, they’re entering a world hungry for their gifts.
Our world is hungry for innovative solutions for closing the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Our world is hungry for imaginative ways for improving a public education system that fails too many students and families.
Our world is hungry for the responsible, moral harnessing of technology to improve our lives.
Our world is hungry for respectful dialogue and behavior, for hearts that reject bigotry, and eyes that look with empathy and compassion on all people as children of God.
As I looked out over the sea of joyous faces at the University of Dayton Arena, I saw more than the largest graduating class in our history.
I glimpsed the future.
After living and learning at our Catholic, Marianist university with its dedication to social justice, with its special focus on building community, with its commitment to preparing students to work across differences, these graduates will enter the world prepared to change it.
They will make more than just a living. They will make a difference.
As free-speech battles play out on college campuses, in the public square and on social media, some may view engaging in respectful, civil dialogue and carefully listening to opposing viewpoints as a lost art.
I would say we’re reclaiming it at the University of Dayton, but, truthfully, it’s always been part of our fabric. It’s certainly a skill graduates need in today’s complex world.
The Marianists, many of whom live among the students in the neighborhoods, know that better than anyone else. They teach us daily how to value the dignity of every person.
Our communication professors who teach a nationally significant Communication 100 course to all undergraduates know that, too. (See story, Page 36.) In the class, students learn how to have meaningful conversations with others who hold different perspectives — all with the goal of understanding each other better.
Alumnus Timothy Shaffer ’06, who is assistant director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State and recently edited a book about the use of dialogue and deliberation, also knows that. As a UD graduate student, he created a class in deliberation that found its way to the program at the Stander Symposium and helped launch his life’s work.
And I know that. When I read this issue’s “Let’s Talk” feature story, I’m heartened by the myriad ways we bring our students together to converse (which implies both speaking and listening) and build bridges across differences. We’re even considering developing a dialogue landing zone in Roesch Library, providing space for conversations on tough issues.
Last year, when a controversy erupted on campus over a student art project, the Student Government Association immediately organized a discussion. As I sat in the back of the room and listened to the challenging but respectful conversation, I grew more proud of our students by the minute. Rather than talking at each other, they engaged in dialogue — with respect, thoughtfulness and a desire to understand another person’s point of view. As a campus community, we didn’t shy away from having a difficult conversation.
The Marianists call that “staying at the table.” I call it courageous conversations.
It’s just what our world needs.
In a recent conversation with leaders of the West Dayton community at a Trotwood church, the talk turned to the future of the former Montgomery County fairgrounds.
“We hope whatever happens there helps knit together our community,” one leader told me.
That gave me pause. While the Great Miami River physically divides our community, the fabric of Dayton is made up of a rich tapestry of people from diverse cultures, races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and nationalities. As an anchor institution with a civic focus and a religious mission, we strive to be inclusive and welcoming.
The University of Dayton and Premier Health, new owners of the 38-acre “fairgrounds” parcel, are starting with a clean slate as we think about the renaissance of this land on the edge of downtown and adjacent to both of our campuses. Why can’t we use this once-in-a-lifetime redevelopment opportunity to build more than new buildings?
Let’s use it to build community. Let’s use it to serve the needs of our two institutions — and the common good.
Many on campus and in the community feel the same way. When I walked into the Coliseum at the former Montgomery County fairgrounds for a community forum in November, the feeling of excitement and possibility was palpable. The place surged with energy.
For more than an hour, small groups of people from cross-sections of the Dayton community brainstormed ideas, scribbled them on oversized sheets of paper, prioritized them — and creatively envisioned what the future could hold. Similar scenes played out on campus and within the health system as hundreds of ideas have emerged from this collective show of imagination.
The participants — from all walks of life in our community — envisioned a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development on the doorstep of downtown Dayton. A place that could attract new businesses and restaurants. A place that connects to the Great Miami River and a resurgence of development in downtown Dayton. A place that welcomes young people who want to study, live and work in our community.
Our partner, planning NEXT, is an urban design firm that understands this property is a special place filled with memories and possibilities. As the firm’s co-founder Jamie Greene told the gathering, “We’re trying to find the sweet spot between high-order aspirations and what we can do together. This is really a community-minded vision.”
It’s not too late to participate. I invite you to visit fairgroundstofuture.org and offer your thoughts. We’ll hold more workshops in January to review the development framework before finalizing a long-range master plan in the spring.
Everyone’s voice matters as we imagine the possibilities, as we strengthen the bonds of community.
If you’re up for a stroll into the future, walk into any laboratory on campus.
The spirit of discovery is palpable — and builds on a rich history of creativity and innovation at the University of Dayton.
On my first day as president last summer, I toured engineering labs, talking with students and faculty about advanced materials and vision-guided robots. Their passion moved me. Their work amazed me, and it continued to do so all year, whether in a tour of the materials division in the University of Dayton Research Institute or listening this summer to the Berry Summer Thesis Institute students present their research.
In the pages of this issue, you’ll find stories of discovery that changed humanity for the better — from rare earth permanent magnets in electronic devices to space food, from better black boxes to Claritin, an allergy medication. Our alumni, researchers, faculty and students have a track record of conducting research for the common good.
We’re unlike other major research universities. The vast majority are focused almost exclusively on discovery-driven research, hoping to achieve impact in future years. Here, we encourage the full spectrum of scholarly approaches, from fundamental to highly applied, because we want to advance the state of the art and quickly solve today’s problems.
It’s precisely this mix of pragmatic and inspired innovation that has elevated our national research stature. Pop quiz time:
Who now ranks ninth in the country for sponsored research at private universities without
Who ranks second nationally for federally sponsored materials research and development?
And for bonus points: Who tops all Catholic universities and all in Ohio for sponsored engineering R&D?
If you guessed your alma mater, you’re right.
Our annual sponsored research volume hit another new record this fiscal year, growing 10 percent to $135 million.
But beyond the numbers and the rankings, our research portfolio speaks volumes. We’re developing real solutions that have a real impact on society. That’s why students are cultivating an urban farm in East Dayton and designing a high school 8,000 miles away in Malawi.
Our research keeps our faculty at the leading edge of change and informs classroom teaching and learning. It impacts regional and national economic development. It allows us to provide valuable experiential learning opportunities to undergraduates and superior training to graduate students.
The stories in this issue and on “Momentum,” a new interactive website, speak to our ingenuity, curiosity and innovation.
I invite you to take a glimpse at udayton.edu/momentum — and step into the future.
Together, we dreamed big and imagined a future of soaring possibilities.
As I near the end of my first year as president, I still hear the thousands of diverse voices from conversations on campus, in alumni gatherings around the nation, in the Dayton community and through Facebook Live as we shaped our aspirational strategic vision to be globally recognized as “THE University for the Common Good.” (See stories, Page 25).
I also hear the echo of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Society of Mary, who profoundly understood the transformative power of education. His words reverberate today as we educate socially conscious leaders: “By educating the mind and the heart, the school can form people who in turn can work at changing the very structures of society to ensure a community of justice and reconciliation.”
From our founding 167 years ago, we have unfailingly turned big dreams into bold moves, always with the common good at the center.
Our aspirational vision, then, is anchored in who we are — a Catholic, Marianist university that graduates pragmatic dreamers, compassionate community builders and creative thinkers eager to make a difference in a world all too often fractured by divisiveness.
It’s moored in our belief that, as a preeminent research university, we are called to advance technology in fields that benefit humanity.
And it’s an essential part of our DNA as community builders. As we move two decades into the future, we pledge to blur the lines between the campus and the community as we foster innovation, entrepreneurship and deep engagement in the city of Dayton and beyond and, together, work to make the world more just.
This is not my vision as your new president. It’s our vision.
Dreaming boldly stretches the imagination, but realizing those dreams can stretch us even more. Today, we are challenged to step up.
Working with faculty, staff and researchers, we are already tackling some of the bold aims in our strategic vision — moving forward on plans to create an innovation hub in the Dayton Arcade downtown and aggressively pursuing new research endeavors in fields like sustainability and human rights.
Without greater alumni engagement and support, we can’t become what I call a stronger version of ourselves — a university recognized worldwide as a partner for the common good through our teaching, research, scholarship and civic engagement.
Along with deans and faculty, I will continue to meet alumni where you are — in your communities, workplaces and homes — to listen to your ideas for new curricula, service-learning initiatives and global engagement. I will ask humbly for your support, particularly in improving affordability and access.
How high will we fly? With your support and God’s grace, we will soar.
I’m the kind of person who enjoys sitting in the second row applauding everyone else.
When the campus inauguration committee asked my thoughts about the design of the April 2-5 celebration, I hesitated for a moment. Then I realized this moment in history is not solely about me. It’s about us — and all we’ve accomplished together over 167 years, one imaginative, faith-filled moment after another.
This is our UD.
The committee is filled with creative thinkers who will choreograph a magnificent few days that will showcase the University of Dayton’s creativity, innovative spirit, collaborative nature — and the faith and power of our people. The events, including my installation address, are meant to be personal, reflective and forward-looking. (See story, Page 11, and the inauguration website: go.udayton.edu/inauguration).
All are invited to join in the celebration, which starts fittingly with a Mass with Archbishop Dennis Schnurr in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and an afternoon of community service projects. It ends on a rousing note with hundreds of students performing on stage at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center and presenting their undergraduate research at the Stander Symposium. In between, we’ll showcase scholarship and research, convene a panel of experts on humanizing technology for the common good and, because stories have power, bring together 80 people in the ancient Native American art of story circles to share their hopes and vision for our future.
At my official installation April 4, the University of Dayton Arena will be transformed from a rowdy basketball venue into a stylish amphitheater where a university’s dreams for the future can soar. Two dozen members of the diverse UD family — from students and professors to community leaders and alumni — will offer short, from-the-heart reflections on what makes our University extraordinary. I’ll touch on our emerging strategic vision for the future, which will be informed through hundreds of conversations with alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends.
With my family, friends, dignitaries and, most important of all, the University of Dayton community, we will celebrate our heritage and boldly and imaginatively embrace a future of greatness.
This is our UD.
When University of Dayton students left for fall break, faculty and staff played with Legos and took a stroll through virtual reality.
But they weren’t playing. They were dreaming together about the University’s future and using creative ways to express their hopes and dreams.
One group constructed a monorail that would run between the center of campus and River Campus. Another built an urban farm in a reclaimed factory as an experiential learning space. Using virtual reality, others walked through a classroom of the future and considered ways they might revolutionize teaching by supplementing their lectures with engaging, immersive experiences.
This was the scene on campus on “Visioning Day,” a series of opportunities for faculty and staff to think seriously about our future.
I am asking the University of Dayton community and our alumni to think big, even audaciously, as we create a strategic vision together. We’re a great university with a collaborative spirit, but we would be a shadow of who we are today if, throughout history, we had not had big aspirations and adapted and changed for the times.
And, quite frankly, we are better than we know we are. We are better than others know of us.
Here’s our collective challenge: We must look honestly at our strengths, weaknesses and the challenges ahead of us. As we gaze 20 years into the future, we need to develop a few powerful, transformational ideas that will provide strategic direction, help prioritize investments, spark private support at higher levels — and move the University to a new level of excellence. At the end of our strategic visioning process, everyone needs to feel they’ve been heard.
That’s why I’m crisscrossing the country — from Dayton to Chicago, New York to Los Angeles — to talk to alumni about their dreams for their alma mater. I’m encouraged by the level of engagement and the wealth of creative ideas.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the core values of UD that resonate with you. What differentiates a UD education? What areas of excellence will we be known for in two decades? What are those areas in which we fall short, and how do we tackle the issues of affordability, accessibility and diversity so that students from all socio-economic walks of life feel welcome and supported?
Thousands have already weighed in, and you can, too, at udayton.edu/VisionUD.
Join me at an upcoming alumni gathering for a dialogue about our future. Tap into weekly online conversations as we grapple with questions about the growing influence of digital educational technologies and the significant trends in American society that will shape the curriculum of the future. Read my fall faculty and staff address, where I candidly lay out the challenges and invite all who love the University of Dayton to help shape our aspirational vision.
We teach our students to adapt and change in a changing world, still true to the urgings of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade.
Today, we embrace that same challenge — with imagination and faith in our future.
During times of transition, I think it’s important to step back and reflect.
We teach our students to change and adapt to meet the needs of the times, but let’s face it, change is rarely easy for anyone.
I have been so impressed by how the University of Dayton has handled the presidential transition — from honoring the legacy of outgoing president Dan Curran to welcoming me and my family with open arms and open minds.
I’m particularly grateful to President Curran, who worked selflessly to make the transition seamless. Before I became president, he supported my working with him and others to fill four important administrative roles with outstanding leaders who will put their mark on our curriculum, diversity, student profile, and fundraising and alumni engagement efforts well into the future.
With a smile and with grace, Dan made room for a new president. Together, we appeared at alumni community gatherings and followed the NCAA-bound Flyers to St. Louis. We jumped on a plane headed to Washington, D.C., to promote regional economic development at the annual Dayton Development Coalition’s Community Leader Fly-In.
We drove to Cincinnati to meet Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and talk about faith and identity, the soul of any Catholic university.
I’ve discovered that continuity and change are not mutually exclusive at the University of Dayton. We embrace both.
Nothing illustrates that better than this photo showing three presidents — Brother Ray Fitz, S.M., Dan and me — in a lighthearted moment. Its composition speaks volumes: Three presidents, three eras, one university.
As I pause to reflect on this smooth presidential transition, I know I’ve landed at a university that’s a model for higher education. This is a strong campus community that supports one another and looks to the future with confidence and faith. I believe, working together in the Catholic, Marianist spirit, we can reach higher than what we have imagined possible.
As we start a new chapter in the University of Dayton’s history, I am committed to listening to a diversity of voices, and I will strive to communicate in an open, transparent fashion. For a behind-the-scenes glimpse of campus life, subscribe to my blog, and follow me on Twitter or take a look at my daily Instagram photos @DaytonPrezSpina.
I’m inspired by the power of this community — and blessed to be a part of it. For that, I’m filled with gratitude.
We are being called to be good stewards of the Earth.
As Pope Francis wrote in his groundbreaking encyclical on the environment, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”
The pope asked us to “care for our common home” — and, ultimately, to care for the world’s most vulnerable citizens who are being affected the most by environmental degradation. (See story, Page 38).
Before the pope called for global stewardship, we made sustainability a major initiative.
In 2013, I signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging that we will take steps to achieve carbon neutrality. We reduced our energy usage and mandated LEED guidelines for new construction and renovations.
We’re making strides. Even as we built substantially more new facilities and increased enrollment to a record high, we reduced greenhouse gas emissions 5 percent per student over our 2006 high.
In the School of Engineering, enrollment in the renewable and clean energy master’s degree program has tripled as we prepare students to design energy-efficient buildings and develop clean energy for the developing world.
In the University of Dayton Research Institute, we’re conducting high-impact research in renewable energy technologies.
In the School of Business Administration, students are learning socially responsible investing, and we don’t have to look too far to find teachable moments. Our board of trustees spent more than a year developing a philosophy called “Catholic, sustainable and responsible investing.” Over the last year, in a phased approach, we eliminated fossil fuel holdings from domestic equity accounts, invested in green and sustainable technologies, and divested from all mutual funds.
In November, the Hanley Sustainability Institute brought together faith-based organizations to advance the global conversation about divestment and the pope’s call for climate solutions.
This is a complex issue with no easy solutions. In times of social change, we draw upon the Marianist philosophy. We must stay at the table, listen to each other, harness the gifts of all and work
together toward a shared vision of the Earth.
As the pope wrote, “The notion of the common good also extends to future generations.”
During my first year as president, I drove to Salyersville, Ky., where students have spent the last 50 summers living among the people.
As we sat on the porch of a 1930s farmhouse, we talked about their volunteer experiences in Appalachia and the impending war in Iraq. Cars passed by, often with a honk of the horn or a shout of “Hey, Dayton!” Later, we joined hands and prayed for the families of Salyersville, our University and for peace in the world.
For us, porches are an enduring symbol. They represent the Marianist sense of hospitality and openness to the world around us. From the porch, our students step out into the world — to study, conduct research and use their community-building skills to serve others while they discover their true selves.
Learning from young people in a place far from campus — it’s how I started my presidency, and it’s how I also spent part of this summer, the start of the final year of my presidency. I joined 21 students in the historic Piazza della Repubblica in Florence, Italy, on their first day of an interdisciplinary course taught by art historian Roger Crum, paleontologist Dan Goldman and medievalist Bobbi Sutherland.
I offered a sociological perspective while my colleagues talked about the significance of this ancient public square from their disciplines. We then sent the students off in four directions to bring back artifacts illustrating what they had just learned. They returned with a holy card, a flower, a stone and even a piece of fruit masterfully interpreted — all to communicate that all knowledge is connected.
We provide students with an education that connects their majors to the world they will enter upon graduation. This summer, more than 400 students earned credit or participated in service opportunities in 17 countries. They studied automotive engineering in eastern Germany, psychology in Paris and peacebuilding in Kosovo. In a remote village in Zambia, students volunteered in schools and hospitals. Doctoral students in physical therapy taught classes at Nanjing Medical University in China, while other students studied at our China Institute in Suzhou.
From Salyersville to Suzhou, we are connected by the bonds of knowledge, by the bonds of community.