Robert Sedlack ’89, a professor of graphic design, died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on May 30. What follows is a letter from a former student.
The other day I was driving, thinking about you, and tears began to stream down my face. So I turned the radio on, and, much to my surprise, the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (To Party)” came on. I laughed because I knew at that moment you were there, trying to bring a smile to my face — as you did for everyone in your life.
When we spoke not long after your ALS diagnosis, it was one of the worst days of my life — next to the day I found out you had died. I’ve never felt my heart sink the way it did when you told me you had ALS. We talked, we cried and we laughed. You faced ALS like everything else in your life, with all the strength you could. I will always be in awe of the passion with which you approached life.
When I came to Notre Dame in 2001, I knew I was in a place to do great things, but I had no idea what those great things were. I was lost. I spent my freshman year taking a variety of classes, hoping something would spark my interest, but it didn’t. So that spring I asked my parents for advice, and my mother asked me: “Erin Marie, what have you enjoyed since you were little, what makes your heart race, what above everything else keeps you occupied for hours?”
I knew the answer she was looking for was drawing. Since I can remember I have drawn everything I could see. I would go to the grocery store and stare longingly at the markers and pencils and the paper — oh, the paper. But surely this couldn’t translate into a career, right? But my parents told me to check into the art department.
So I registered for my first graphic design class, and when I returned in the fall of 2002, it sealed my fate as a graphic designer. Now granted, it was just a foundations class, but the supply list was right up my alley: pens, pencils, paper, X-Acto knives. For the first time at Notre Dame I felt like I was moving in the right direction.
Now, Robert, you knew you were like a celebrity in that department, right? I would hear your name in passing. I would see you hauling ass down the hall, moving at 90 miles an hour, with purpose. When I attended your GD1 class, I was so amped up I swear I almost threw up the first day. You knew almost everyone in the class, but not me, yet. As you took attendance you looked up and said, “Prill, are you here?” and I responded, “Yeah, Sedlack, I’m here.” I knew then you were going to be someone special in my life. Little did I know the magnitude.
You were always there for me, encouraging me in all the right ways. Like when I failed all your written tests with flying colors, and you said, “Well, we now know you aren’t a test-taker,” and we laughed. You made it okay. You saw the best in me, that I could be a designer without being a great test-taker, and that was just fine.
You saw the best in everyone, Robert, even when we couldn’t see the best in ourselves. And you always made me laugh. Like hysterically. I don’t think I will ever laugh like I laughed with you. You are the only person I know who could bounce a minivan off a parking garage in downtown Chicago on a class trip and laugh about it.
Thank you for being my thesis director. I don’t think I could ever thank you enough for guiding me through that defining path to becoming a designer. That whole year was one of the most incredible of my life — from trying to explain to my parents why I needed a fifth year at one of the country’s most expensive universities to you not calling me crazy when I showed up with a power drill and told you I could build my senior thesis window installation myself.I grew as a person and as a designer under your guidance. You were more than a thesis director. You made me think about the person I wanted to be in this life.
You know, every person who spoke to you or became your friend, and every student who walked into the Art, Art History & Design Department is better because of you. You created a little army of well-educated, passionate people, and that legacy will continue always. I want you to know you will always be in my head, pushing me to do better, to be better, to fight for what I want because anything that is worthwhile in this world is worth fighting for.
Sometimes I would calculate how much sleep you got by when your last email was sent at night and your first email was sent in the morning. You worked so incredibly hard for all of us — making sure we succeeded, making sure we were making connections and attending the right events, making sure we weren’t out at the bars too late to make our thesis meetings in the morning. You became family when a lot of our families were far away.
I remember when I met Matt, and when he met my family and my friends, but he hadn’t yet met you. When I came back in 2011 to lecture and go to the ND-Navy game, I think I was more worried about your meeting Matt than my lecturing. We walked into your office, and after you hugged me and shook Matt’s hand, you immediately got out your grade book and showed Matt my grades. We still laugh about that. I’m so happy you met the man I married, and I’m so glad you approved of him.
Robert, thank you for everything. I will miss you every day, but I know that every day in my life is possible because of something you did for me, something you said to me. And I know I will see you again someday, and you’ll want an update on my career. So I better get to work.
Erin Prill ’06
Red Lodge, Montana