Friday April 7, 2017

How High Will We Fly?

By Eric F. Spina

[Exhale]

I still see it. I still feel it. I always will.

[Smile]

In a darkened University of Dayton Arena, I felt the hopes and dreams of our campus community soar in an energetic, joyful celebration I will always cherish.

The opening of the presidential installation ceremony touched me deeply because it reflected so powerfully and authentically who we are as a university. A Catholic, Marianist university. The University of Dayton.

As I watched from my front-row seat, more than two dozen students, faculty, researchers, staff and alumni entered the stage, one by one, to speak briefly from their hearts about what makes UD so extraordinary. Each closed with the words, “This is our UD.”

[Chills]

For Dominic Sanfilippo ‘16, it’s “realizing that our big, complicated world is made more joyful and more just by sharing stories, taking risks and finding our voices together.”

Human rights major Leena Sabagh called UD “a community of Flyers striving to create change and make campus and the world a better place.” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley ‘98 added, “Our UD is a university that connects to our Dayton.”

When I reflect on my whirlwind first year as president, I remember all the voices I have heard on campus, in alumni communities around the nation and in Dayton gatherings as we shaped our aspirational strategic vision to be “The University for the Common Good.”

All those diverse voices came together over the four-day inaugural celebration of UD in a way that showcased our emerging vision, the talents of our community — and our faith that the extraordinary happens when we work together.

The words “How high will we fly?” flashed across the huge, curved screen in a video before I offered my inaugural address. If the creativity of the inauguration celebration is any indicator, we will soar to new heights. How do I even begin to thank the campus community, our alumni, Dayton neighbors, and my family, friends and mentors?  Any expression of gratitude can’t possibly capture all that’s in my heart.

To the inauguration committee, co-chaired by Deb Bickford and Molly Wilson: Thank you for the countless hours, creativity and care in planning and implementing engaging events that touched every corner of our campus. Personal thanks to Tom Weckesser for his special assistance and support leading up to and throughout the week. Kudos to Michelle Hayford and Brian LaDuca for transforming a basketball arena into a theatre filled with song, dance and even a few oversized puppets. A special thanks to the campus community who participated in “Ours;” the student and faculty performers; and the incomparable Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, who closed the celebration with such exuberance.

To the strategic visioning committee, co-chaired by Paul Benson and Michelle Pautz: I’m grateful for the broad, inclusive, consultative process you created. The imaginative ideas you generated this academic year — with the input of 3,000-plus people — will help us shape a future of remarkable possibilities. Many thanks to Teri Rizvi, who helped me shape my message, watched in horror as 3,000 words crept up to 9,000, and then helped me slim down to a mere 5,000!

To our students: You never cease to amaze me — from cleaning up the Great Miami River to performing on the Schuster Center stage to presenting your original research at the Stander Symposium. You are our inspiration and our promise to the world.

To the Marianists, especially Father Marty Solma, Father Jim Fitz and Brother Ray Fitz: I consider your faith in me and the future of our University a sign of God’s abundant grace, and I am grateful for the many blessings you have given to my family and me.

To our faculty and staff: Thank you for imagining our future and for participating in the “Shared Expertise for Shared Solutions” symposium, story circles, Nick Donofrio’s keynote address on innovation, and the humanizing technology panel discussion. To see so many of you at the installation ceremony meant so much to me.

To our alumni, friends and trustees: Thank you for welcoming Karen and me as Flyers in such a warm and genuine way, and thanks for showing us in your professional and personal lives how a Catholic, Marianist education shapes lives and builds community. I am grateful for your belief in me.

To the greater Dayton community who participated in our visioning exercise and were ever-present this week: Your support and your belief in our great University is motivating to me, and I vow to continue building on the trust that has been established over many years. Our futures are intertwined, and our work together is important.

To my friends, family and mentors: Your presence this week brought me great joy, both because you shaped me and because I know you now understand just how special the University of Dayton community is.

How high will we fly? With your support and God’s grace, we will soar.

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