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President's Blog: From the Heart

Feeding the Soul

By Eric F. Spina

Karen and I knew we shouldn’t try to top the delicious, homemade spicy ramen noodle dishes we enjoyed with Asian American students at Gabriella Rice’s house in the fall, but we wanted to at least match the hospitality.

With snow gently falling outside the windows of the residence on a wintery Saturday morning, they offered us a window into their lives as we enjoyed brunch and storytelling. Gatherings with students always feed my soul — and this one fed my ego, too, when a few students agreed with my wife after she quipped that Tom Hanks could play me in a feature film about my life.

I told the students that movie could be called “The Accidental President” because I never envisioned that I’d leave teaching to eventually lead a major university. In a way, my story is a metaphor for how the Asian American Association evolved on our campus. Life is all about embracing the possibilities.

“During my freshman year, there was no Asian American Association on campus,” remembered Gabriella, an international business management major from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who helped found the group.

“It started with a group as big as this table. Now, we have more than 200 students. I love this club. It’s my baby,” she said proudly.

And she and the association’s officers should be proud. This is one of the strongest, most vibrant, active student organizations on campus. They’re a tight-knit group — really, a family — and they represent the best of the University of Dayton community with their openness, intellectual curiosity, and friendliness.

Over scrambled eggs, French toast and hot chocolate, I discovered just how engaged they are in campus life and with each other.

As a show of support for a roommate, Gabriella and her other roommates planned to catch the world premiere later that day of a student rom-com, Charlie’s Bridge, filmed in Prague last summer. Lena Clerici talked excitedly about attending the Black Excellence Ball, sponsored by Black Action Through Unity as part of Black History Month activities. “Everybody gets to showcase their best selves,” she said of the glitzy gathering that draws more than 200 students.

Asia Solomianko, part of the global living learning community in the Caldwell Street Apartments, planned to do some cooking for a progressive dinner that night. Jordan Strife, Ashwin Sanker and Luke Zerona hoped to beat the crowd for the Dayton Flyers’ afternoon game against St. Louis so they could cheer wildly in the Red Scare section for the nationally ranked men’s team. Nick Williams shared plans of traveling to Puerto Rico over spring break to help with hurricane clean-up work. Others have already lined up internships for the summer.

These bright, engaged students found each other on a campus that is slowly becoming more diverse. “When I was in grade school, there were two Asian students, and one was my sister. In high school, there were four of us in the graduating class. Here, there are other people like me,” said Gabrielle.

I am *absolutely* convinced the more diverse the learning environment, the more inclusive it feels, the stronger we will be as a university — for all students.

As we gathered for a group photo, I felt energized by their spirit of community. Truly, food for the soul.

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