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President's Blog: From the Heart


By Eric F. Spina






All words that aptly describe the city of Dayton.

Then without prompting, those interviewed for a student-produced documentary about Dayton’s phoenix-like rise after last summer’s devastating tornadoes and mass shooting settled on one word.


That’s also how I would describe the University of Dayton media production students who finished editing “Dayton’s Darkest Summer: The Rise From Tragedy” remotely from their home computers after devoting countless hours over nearly a year on creating the 17-minute short-form documentary. Less dedicated filmmakers may have shelved their project in the midst of a pandemic, but not this group.

Fittingly, the film premiered not in a theatre, but in a Zoom room where it attracted more than 200 viewers from around the country over three nights. In all, more than 5,000 people saw the poignant piece on YouTube in its first week alone.

“Thanks to the dedication of these students, the ingenuity of their faculty and staff, and the can-do attitude of UDit, they finished this important film. Much like the city of Dayton, they would not be kept down by anything, not even COVID,” said Joe Valenzano, chair of the communication department.

I echo Joe’s praise. The students’ advisers and mentors, Greg Kennedy and Roy Flynn, found a way to help the students bring the deeply personal stories of survivors and those who lost loved ones to the screen. Interspersing news footage with interviews, they captured the beating heart of a city that rose up to support one another in its time of great need.

As mayor and 1998 UD graduate Nan Whaley observed, “It’s amazing how this community came together. I saw that social cohesion really matters. …People have a human need to be connected.”

Haley Celeste, one of the film’s editors, said the students felt “really, really connected to this story” and were surprised by the vulnerability shown by those in grief. Scriptwriter Kaitlyn Baxendale recounted how “hard it was to sit down and ask someone about the worst moment of their life. We left interviews,” she told the audience, “crying.” Matt Pins, who worked on special effects, described the documentary as “a love letter to the city and the school.”

I find these students’ single-minded dedication to their art — and to the human community — inspiring. As Dr. Valenzano so eloquently summed up, “They hit on the true definition of being a Daytonian: community. Communities are resilient, they are supportive, they are strong, and none are stronger than this one.”

As I sat in my home office and watched the credits slowly roll across the screen, I typed in one word: “Bravo!”

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