Letters appearing in the summer 2020 print issue are marked by a double ##.
##I enjoyed reading the profile of Jorge Rivera-Herrans ’20 (“From would-be doctor to the musical theater stage”), especially because it highlights how far the Notre Dame theater program has come in the 21st century. I hope to see Jorge’s work in years to come. His journey is not without precedent, however. Robert Meffe ’89 graduated with degrees in pre-med and music and could easily have succeeded in pursuing either but followed his passion to an amazing career in musical theater. He is now an associate professor and head of musical theater at San Diego State University. Before that, he spent 22 years in New York City as a professional conductor, music director, keyboardist, orchestrator, arranger and music copyist with a long list of Broadway credits, as well as national tours, off-Broadway, regional theater
Dan Gore ’89
Londonderry, New Hampshire
Thanks so much for your story in the on Jay Rivera-Herrans, a unique talent who has quite a future in entertainment. Anyone can see a three-minute trailer of his musical, Stupid Humans — since then renamed — at ftt.nd.edu, featuring the 20 or so students who made this production such a hot ticket (even Father Jenkins had to see it) on campus last year.
Equally worthy of a magazine feature is his collaborator on the song “The Fighting Irish (of Notre Dame, Y'all),” Teagan Earley ’20, who happens to be pictured with him. I was able to view many of Teagan’s theatrical performances on her website as well as the FTT site and was so knocked out that I sent her a fan letter. Teagan sent back a long and appreciative response, and we have been communicating on occasion ever since!
Teagan delivered two terrific leads during Todd Rundgren’s “Play Like a Champion Today” concert in September 2018 at DPAC, both of which you can enjoy on the FTT site. Yet I think she’s even better as an actor.
Teagan’s last performance on an ND stage — following roles in The Great Gatsby, Heathers: The Musical, The Importance of Being Earnest, Spring Awakening, The Pirates of Penzance and Mozart’s The Magic Flute -- would have been in Jesus Christ Superstar, but COVID-19 slammed the door on that production. Still, Professor Matt Hawkins, the show’s director, has been downloading rehearsal videos on the FTT site so we can catch a glimpse of what this elaborate musical, featuring about 100 students, would have been like.
It is amazing how far the performing arts has come since my days at ND in the late 1960s. We did have a few student theatrical productions in Washington Hall, but they involved maybe 8 to 10 students each. There were no FTT or music majors in those days.
I also have to compliment your excellent story on the student strike of May 1970. I was one of the 3,000 ND and SMC students (out of a combined undergrad enrollment of 7,000) who marched to Howard Park in South Bend to hear speakers who — as your article correctly noted — sometimes veered way off track. My professors generally did teach through the end of that semester but didn’t penalize students who refused to go to class, suspending their previous attendance policies.
I recall a report of a mysterious fire at the ROTC building which the ND administration dismissed as being of electrical origin — which I still believe was a cover story designed to tamp down the actions of the more activist students. Regardless, Notre Dame’s Catholic ethos, similar to ones at other religiously-affiliated universities, did seem to keep our protests orderly while secular institutions were dealing with disruption, destruction and, in Kent State’s case, death.
Steve Galvacky ’70
Delray Beach, Florida
Spring of ’70
##Michael Murphy’s “Conscientious Objections” states, “No violence occurred at Notre Dame, perhaps because student action was informed by Christian values. . . . Above all, it respected life.” The article then lists Notre Dame alumni who died while participating in taking lives in Vietnam. Does it make sense to say that because there was no violence on campus while ROTC-training-to-kill was going on that there was student action informed by Christian values or that there was respect for life? With ROTC still on campus today, the administration’s faith profession and secular execution still need to be informed by Christian values and respect for life. To borrow from Patrick Griffin’s article on Martin Scorsese’s “Dark Gospel,” perhaps it is “our tangled compromises with evil” that are the real issue of conscience and objections.
Taylor Lake Village, Texas
##The spring of 1970 was part of a campus movement against the Vietnam War that lasted for several years. Student opinion was largely opposed to the war, as illustrated by the student body electing lawyer William Kunstler as Man of the Year in 1970. I strongly believe that those of us who demonstrated against the war on campus, in Chicago, in Washington and elsewhere helped end that unjust war. We demonstrated because of our love of our country and our countrymen. The famous slogan “love it or leave it,” coined by the right, had no meaning to us.
Robert J. Perry ’71
##Kudos to Michael Murphy ’79 for his informative, even-handed article on the “strike” during those tumultuous days in May 1970, following the killings at Jackson State and Kent State. What I most recall were the relevant dialogues held on South Quad, led by professors who left their classrooms to discuss the militarism, racism and sexism that remain too commonplace today. Course curricula were interrupted; essential learning was not. I was part of the gatherings and marches that May that transformed the campus into an activist, conscience-raising student body. I was fortunate enough to have both Father Burrell and Father Amen the following year. Their humane approach distinguished them among the most influential, inspiring, spiritually fulfilling and thought-provoking educators I experienced during my years at Notre Dame. Those “strike” days awakened in many of us the responsibility to become actively involved in politics and in service to our local communities and the world, then and since.
Michael Cannariato ’73
“Conscientious Objections” brought back a flood of memories and mixed emotions for this NROTC grad. My views on God, Country and Notre Dame had evolved since my freshman year. So many things happened from 1966 to ’70: MLK assassinated, RFK gunned down shortly after he gave a speech at Stepan Center, Mai Lai in ’68, the assassination of Fred Hampton, all in such stark contrast to Woodstock when “song and celebration” took us “back to the garden” in the sea of violence that was Southeast Asia. A sea that many of us were destined to be part of. Father Hesburgh’s “deft handling of the student body” imposed a structure that effectively allowed the expression of student disobedience in a way so as not to. Sorin Hall, for its part, offered a keg to the student with the lowest lottery number. My number was 366 (included leap year) and the 23rd day. They would have drafted Lady Bird before me. When Sorin Hall found out I was already in the Navy, they appropriated the keg. I have full confidence it was put to good use if not for a good cause.
Paul Rogers ’70
##Beth Ann Fennelly’s article, “What Good is Literature?” resonated with me as I hope it did many others. I believe as fervently as she does in the numerous benefits of a good read. I share her concern regarding the decline in the study of literature at the university level. A broader concern, however, is the decline in reading among the population in general. Writing in The New Yorker, Caleb Crain cited research indicating a decline in reading by Americans, from 26 percent in 2003 to 19 percent in 2016. Another recent report indicates that the average American spends fewer than 18 minutes reading per day. What good is literature that humanizes us and makes us more empathetic and socially conscious if, as adults, we simply don’t read very much?
Based on my 40 years as a professor of literacy education, I also worry about the decline in adults reading to their young children on a regular basis. I can’t help but believe in the negative impact of this degeneration on the overall deterioration of the reading habits of adult Americans. Numerous researchers have documented the significant influence that parents have on the reading habits and capabilities of their children.
I wasn’t a reader as a child. Nonetheless, I remember my father always reading the daily newspaper, and, more importantly, my mother reading to me incessantly. I credit these influences with my eventual conversion to daily personal reading for pleasure and edification. Fennelly implores us to lose ourselves in a book. I would add: “And lose your young children in a book as well by reading aloud to them for a minimum of 20 minutes a day.”
R. Craig Roney ’65
##Strengthening one’s empathic skill by reading more literature can easily be done outside of a formal, collegiate learning environment. So why waste precious college credit hours on literature for the student who is predisposed to other academic pursuits, which cannot easily be acquired outside of a formal learning environment?
Forty years of being an engineer has taught me to appreciate my technical education, which I would never have acquired without the formal and rigorous learning environment of labs, “home sets,” tests and projects. Wedging out this kind of technical education with literature may have grave consequences as our country deals with COVID-19, our “Sputnik event.” Right now our country needs all of the technical skills it can muster. I got my fill of literature listening to books on tape while commuting to work.
Robert Stell ’78
Indian Land, South Carolina
I am saving Beth Ann Fennelly’s article to share with my students. In three pages, she eloquently describes my own thoughts and feelings, which drove me to earn a liberal arts degree, in addition to my BS and MS in electrical engineering. I am grateful for Notre Dame’s commitment to the humanities, which enlightened my engineer’s logical brain and opened it up to the world of art, history, language, literature and philosophy.
After 30-plus years on the Purdue faculty, teaching electrical and computer engineering technology, I retired and now teach high school computer science part-time. Past students knew better than to criticize their liberal arts electives as “a waste of time.” Many experienced my mini-lecture about the benefits of learning to use both sides of their brain. In the future, I will spare them the lecture and simply hand out a copy of Ms. Fennelly’s story.
Lest anyone take the article’s park bench joke seriously, I can attest to the value of an English degree. English classmates of mine who called their subject “the great non-major” went on to become actors, attorneys, editors, news writers, producers, professors and more. In my own career, my humanities classes taught me to write quickly and well, be an effective teacher and advisor, and create lab exercises that get the point across.
Christopher J. Smith, ’79, MSEE ‘83
La Porte, Indiana
After reading “A Solution to the Snails of Senegal,” I felt deep gratitude to Jason Rohr and all those working with him. It is wonderful how their project approaches the problem of schistosomiasis in a holistic manner involving the broader web of life.
There is one aspect of the web not mentioned. Besides the proliferation of vegetation in the rivers, use of fertilizers and insecticides often cause a dead zone for marine life at the mouth of the rivers, as has existed for many years in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi. A solution involving the pretreatment of seeds, rather than Big Ag fertilizers, is available for this as well. It would be wonderful if that, too, could be incorporated into the project of Rohr’s team. This solution is the work of Leonard Sonnenschein, president of the World Aquarium and Conservation for the Oceans Foundation.
Josephine Niemann, SSND, ’70
St. Louis, Missouri
A changed America
Anthony DePalma’s spring cover story is perfect reading for a sequestered senior alum who has already assessed that the world has free bolted from the line of scrimmage. No defensive backs are fast enough to catch it.
DePalma has produced a true contender for best feature article ever to appear in Notre Dame Magazine. Rod Steiger would have to agree. The issue’s cover is perfect. My Irish grandfather, a coal miner, would have fit in perfectly with the group.
Hope you are safe in South Bend, good book in hand. Currently my good reading is Barry Lopez ’66 ’68 M.A.. I happily remember how you captured for your readers an early peek at Lopez’s dot in Horizon.
Thomas L. Bonn, ’60
Ithaca, New York