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Dear Adele: On April 30, 2011, Jeremy Vinluan began to handwrite one letter every day for the next year. In a few short weeks, he’ll write his last one. by Larry Burgess

Dear Adèle

9:06 AM  Apr 10th, 2012
by Matthew Dewald

On April 30, 2011, Jeremy Vinluan began to handwrite one letter every day for the next year. In a few short weeks, he’ll write his last one.

 

No one writes letters anymore. Ask the postal service, which is closing branches across the country. Even email has become too cumbersome. We text. We tweet.

Senior journalism major Jeremy Garcia Vinluan is not like the rest of us. He writes letters, the old-fashioned kind, the ones that begin by laying a sheet of paper across a desk in his Marianist Hall room or a table in some café. He has done this every single day for nearly a year now.

Each day, and sometimes more than once a day, he has held a lined sheet of notebook paper in place with one hand. With his other hand, his right hand, he has scratched a pen across the lines, transferring the ink from its tip to the surface of the fibrous pulp. It absorbs the ink, preserving the very precise patterns of his hand’s motion.

He does it, he says, to understand what it means to be a Marianist.

With a group of 11 other students, Jeremy participated in a ceremony in Immaculate Conception Chapel last year in which they committed to a year as lay Marianists. They pray and share their faith journey together. The letter-a-day project is part of his personal commitment to exploring the Marianist charism.

The Jeremy who emerges from these letters, read as a whole, is a young man of immense compassion and faith, one who alternately struggles with and embraces the realities of his life while yearning for human connection and meaning. They are, for him, inextricably linked.

As an uncertain high school student in Virginia Beach, Va., contemplating his future, Jeremy got advice from his mother: “Do what your grandmother always did,” she said. “Pray.” And he did. Several weeks later, he got a call out of the blue inviting him to consider UD, a Catholic, Marianist university. His grandmother, a devout Catholic, “loved Mary her whole life,” he says.

It was not coincidence, he believes, but rather “the law of faith. Providence made it 
happen.”

When he got to campus, he discovered Virginia W. Kettering Residence Hall. He cannot pass it without thinking of his late grandmother, whose name was Virginia, though he still calls her “Lola,” a Tagalog word for grandmother. When he learned that the commitment ceremony for lay Marianists would be April 30, his grandmother’s birthday, he saw another sign of Lola’s faith and guiding hand and took the leap.

By the time he writes his final letter April 30, 2012, he will have handwritten 367 letters, 2012 being a leap year. Many are anecdotal and mundane, the stuff of everyday life. He sends them to family, friends, classmates, Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers and complete strangers. As he wrote to a friend Oct. 30, “So many letters. And so many people.”

His first letter was to his mother, thanking her for attending his lay Marianist commitment ceremony.

“I wish Lola would be here to see my big day. The truth is that her presence is alive wherever I go in life,” he wrote April 30, 2011. “Today and this letter are dedicated to you and the loving memory of your [mother]. I am so proud to have you as my mother.”

A different person has received each of the letters that have followed, each a single sheet, front and back, which he photocopies before mailing. He has no master plan of recipients but decides each day to whom he will write. Those decisions are part of his commitment to connect with others. In that, he is inspired by Adèle de Batz de Trenquelléon, co-founder with Blessed William Joseph Chaminade of the Daughters of Mary and a dedicated correspondent known to have penned more than 700 letters.

Adèle and Jeremy are part of a much longer epistolary tradition. St. Paul famously wrote letters to early Christians in Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonica and elsewhere and addressed ones directly to saints James, Peter, John and Jude. Twelfth-century love letters exchanged between Abelard and Heloise endure today, and the novel grew immensely in popularity in the 18th century when it took the epistolary form.

Jeremy admits he didn’t realize what he was getting himself in for. “When I made my personal commitment, I didn’t realize writing to 367 people would be an adventure for me,” he wrote June 9, to a Marianist sister on campus. 
“I also didn’t realize that I would be writing to 
367 children of God.”

Some of the children of God to whom he writes are also children of the earth. To a young cousin who just visited, he wrote June 28, 
“You even called me FUNNY BUNNY over and over!” and signs it, “Your funny bunny partner, Jeremy.”

A week later, to another cousin, just 2 years old, he describes an event that would redefine his life.

“When I was at your age,” he tells her, “I was a healthy boy. Healthy by our society’s standards. Something happened to me around age 3. I started to lose my hearing in both ears.”

That hearing loss shaped the trajectory of his childhood as his family struggled to identify his ailment, seek treatments, all unsuccessful, and accept his condition’s inevitability. Today, Jeremy speaks with a vocal distinction that some first-time listeners mistake for a foreign accent, and he wears cochlear implants that translate audible signals into electrical impulses his brain can interpret. (On Jan. 12, he wrote to thank Graeme Clark, the developer of cochlear implants.)

The implants do not deliver sound but a proxy for it that allows him to converse. As he puts it in a Sept. 6 letter to a Beta brother, “The way I hear the world is beyond your wildest dreams.”

Jeremy’s letters reveal that he has contemplated hearing loss as both a burden and a gift.

“God does have a twisted sense of humor,” he wrote to a friend in August. To another, he wrote, “God speaks to me through the silence of the universe.”

To a Marianist brother, he wrote, “I should be grateful for being able to hear sound and speak with my voice. I also should be grateful 
to turn on/off my hearing. It is like being a 
superhero.”

As much as anything, his hearing loss is a source of connection to others. “Meeting you last Saturday made my night,” he wrote Sept. 14 to someone he’d just met at a party. “My plan for that night was just to say happy birthday to my friend, then leave. That plan backfired when you asked me if I know ASL [American Sign Language], and we ended up signing for hours.” In September, he met a community college student studying ASL, “the first girl,” he wrote 
Oct. 1 to an ASL interpreter, “to get my attention.” (In a letter to another former interpreter two days later, he backs off: “Just because we use ASL to communicate to each other doesn’t mean we’re romantically linked.”)

Jeremy’s hearing is but one part of his life. A much bigger part is his heart. Over hundreds of letters, it emerges as large, questioning, compassionate and playful.

“You may be wondering what I am doing here in Akron,” he wrote to LeBron James Oct. 22 after spotting him at a store. His friends, he explains to the NBA star, don’t understand why Jeremy left Virginia for college in Ohio. “I do not think such a choice is crazy. I’m sure you understand.”

He writes other strangers. In late July, he wrote the vice president of park operations at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., to tell him how great a time he had at the park. On Aug. 17, he wrote to thank a woman who cut his hair. On Dec. 9, he wrote UD’s vice president for financial affairs: “You have been signing my [pay]checks since I first started working for UD.”

His longest letter is to his father, for reasons he prefers to keep private. He withheld that one and nine others from the collection he offered for review for this article. The subjects contained in some of the letters he provided are deeply personal as he explores the complexities of his family, friendships and own life.

Pause to consider how very physical Jeremy’s entire letter-writing project is. We communicate digitally, our fingers gliding across keyboards. We tap lettered keys, but that is a fiction. A keyboard does not type a letter as a typewriter does. It sets in motion a complex series of digital ones and zeroes that our monitors display back to us as characters. When we hit send, those electrical signals hop from server to server to the recipient, whose display renders the ones and zeroes into images of letters and words. It’s as real as the 
actor flickering on your television screen.

Jeremy touches each sheet of paper with his hands. He puts each sheet in an envelope. He addresses, stamps and seals each envelope and hand delivers it or places it in a mailbox. The postal system merges his mailed envelope with millions of other pieces of correspondence and then distinguishes it by a state, a city, a street and a number. A human letter carrier brings it to another mailbox and slips it in. Another person’s hand pulls it out. The recipient tears open the very envelope Jeremy sealed, pulls out the very sheet of paper on which he wrote, and sees the marks of his very own hand. The process is nothing if not intimate.

His words can be, too. He writes often of his Lola.

“Something happened to me this morning,” he wrote to a campus friend Aug. 1. “I was rearranging my bedroom. I have a statue of Mary. It is about 2-to-3 feet tall. When I moved the statue, I felt several papers at the bottom of the statue. I thought it was odd because I emptied the statue a few months ago. … One of the small papers I found happens to belong to my Lola. The paper is not just a small paper but a small envelope with a list of petitions inside. … One of the petitions to our Blessed Mother is ‘Jeremy’s hearing and speech.’ … I’ll keep this for a long time. I knew that my Lola was praying for me.”

In these letters, more than anything, he is a young man asking the questions that confront a senior about to go through another transition.

“Only God knows my real purpose in life,” he wrote to a cousin Sept. 29. “And I’ll wait and wait.”

He does so with ever-hopeful optimism. “I always end up in positions and places I never thought that I would be in.”

His letter-writing project, and his yearlong commitment as a lay Marianist, will soon conclude. Many of his 2012 letters bear one of the 139 Forever stamps that his mother gave him at Christmas to help him mail his letters as quickly as possible. “I am using my mother’s gift to me,” he said.

His final letter, the letter of April 30, 2012, will be addressed to his beloved Lola. He plans to deliver it personally.

“I will burn it,” he said, “so it can reach up to heaven.”


Dear Adele: On April 30, 2011, Jeremy Vinluan began to handwrite one letter every day for the next year. In a few short weeks, he’ll write his last one. by Larry BurgessDear Adele: On April 30, 2011, Jeremy Vinluan began to handwrite one letter every day for the next year. In a few short weeks, he’ll write his last one. by Larry Burgess

15 Responses to Dear Adèle

  1. Please send me Jeremy Vinluan’s mailing address where we (my class) can send the letters they will write to him. The story inspired me to make this a ‘topic of discussion’ in my Charger class~ and I plan to follow up the discussion by having the students write letters to Jeremy and send them to him in one envelope from Beavercreek City Schools!@ Thanks, Jeremy! You are an inspiration to many, many people and I plan on sharing your story with my students!
    Sincerely,
    Marilea Smith,
    AMS Choir Dir. from Beavercreek City Schools
    btw: I am a UD graduate!

  2. Please send me Jeremy’s address at U.D. to write to him! As a Flyer alumni, I’m thoroughly inspired by his letter writing campaign. I also feel the art of letter has fallen to the wayside, and embrace every opportunity to handwrite a personal letter. I journal daily as well, and feel it’s a pathway to the soul.
    Most Sincerely,
    Cyndi

  3. Tracy Francisco says:

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful article about my cousin Jeremy. Only now have I read and understood why he has started his year long commitment, it started because of our Lola. I will be extra proud of him when I attend his graduation from UD in May! You really do make me proud Jeremy, way to go! <3 Tracy

  4. Nearly on the verge of tears reading this. In all honesty this blows my mind. I still remember the day, Jeremy lost his hearing. I was so mad, I told God I would rather it be me, but there is a reason for everything. This article has to be one of my most favorite articles that I have ever read in my entire life. Not just because it’s about my brother, but because God is using my brother to glorify His Kingdom. Letter writing is definitely a family thing! Keep it up bro! Thank you Matthew Dewald. Graduation here we come!! E- Team!! So proud! So proud!

  5. Jennifer Vinluan says:

    Love this! Your Lola can’t wait to read your letter to her! :) How beautiful! Xoxoxo

  6. Lalaine Aquino says:

    Thanks for such an awesome article Matthew Dewald. We’re all proud of Jeremy. What a way to honor our Lola. This made my weekend!

  7. Marilyn Garcia says:

    A very touching article indeed! Thanks Matthew for writing about our dear nephew who has always been an inspiration to all of us. Jeremy can see, listen and feel way beyond any normal people does. He is an extraordinary individual who has a gift to touch the hearts of those around him. Well done Jeremy, cheers and best wishes from all of us here Down Under. We miss you!
    Tita Marilyn

  8. Matthew Dewald says:

    Thank you for all of the nice comments. Jeremy’s an amazing guy, and it was a privilege to write about him. And, I was delighted to become part of the story when, on Friday, I was present when he delivered letter No. 350. He handed it to me. What a gift. —MJD

  9. Uyen Le-Jenkins says:

    What an amazing story! I hope he goes on to publish his letters in a book. It will be an inspiration for all to enjoy. How nice would it be for those who were fortunate enough to receive a letter be able to see it in a book!

  10. Cherrie Garcia Vinluan says:

    Hi, I am Jeremy’s mother. Let me say that again…I am Jeremy’s very proud mother. After waiting “forever” for our copy of the magazine, we finally received it yesterday. I did not want to read it online even after I was told that some of his cousins read it already. It was worth the wait. I felt my mother and I “beaming with pride” while reading that article. Mr Dewald, you have given Jeremy and our family a priceless gift to treasure forever. Thank you.

  11. I work with Jeremy’s mother. Even though I have never met Jeremy or Lola I feel as though I know them through this wonderful article. As his mother is also an inspiration to many which I am sure Lola was to her, I can see just by your letter writing the amazing characteristics that continue to shine and pass on. I hope you will continue this wonderful personal journey as it continues to affect more people than you know!

  12. Ken Sayler says:

    I am one of Jeremy’s many uncles. As we all can clearly see, he is a remarkable young man and a great source of pride for all of us in his family. He is an inspiration to all who know him and proof that there is still much to admire in American youth. His Lola had great impact on hiim as she did with all us in the family. She was a wonderful leader and inspiration to us all. I think she did her best work on Jeremy.

  13. lsayler says:

    Thank you Mr Dewald for putting into words this beautiful, heartwarming, touching, and very loving story of Jeremy. Brilliantly done! This is not a work of fiction, it is a true story of Jeremy Vinluan.
    I have known Jeremy since birth. Throughout his growing years, even after he was diagnosed of hearing loss, he already exhibited many signs of being creative, focused, driven, and not hampered by any obstacles. I can still remember the day he arrived in Dayton. He was so excited that he was accepted to attend college at the University of Dayton. After four years Jeremy is graduating May 6, 2012. We are all very proud of him as I am sure his Lola (my mother) would be.

  14. Judy Richards says:

    What a beautiful story! We always love to hear about Jeremy through his mother at work. Congratulations to Jeremy on all of his accomplishments and his graduation! Keep up the good work and continue to reach for the moon and gather the stars!

  15. Sara says:

    I too would love to write Jeremy!

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