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President's Blog: From the Heart

Godspeed, Daria

By Eric F. Spina

In higher education, we’re used to saying “goodbye” to people we care about.

We do it every year when we grant degrees to graduating students, hug them, celebrate their accomplishments, and tell them we will watch and relish their successes in the years to come. This is the very definition of bittersweet because a piece of our hearts goes with them.

As we bid farewell to Dr. Daria-Yvonne Jackson Graham this week before she begins a new role as Dean of Students and Associate Vice President of Student Affairs at California State University at San Bernardino, this is exactly how I feel. So happy for and proud of Dr. Graham, I understand well why God is calling her to take this step, but I really don’t want her to leave. Nor do her colleagues, friends, family, and the students she’s touched.

This is a “graduation” more than 30 years in the making, though, so it is understandable that it is a particularly hard goodbye for our campus community. Daria has not been just a high-impact, difference-making administrator, she also authentically models the Marianist charism. (There is no truth to the rumor that Dr. Graham is leaving UD because there are no more diplomas for her to earn after receiving *three* degrees — bachelor’s master’s and doctorate.) What can you say about someone who joined UD as an undergraduate, led and built programs, mentored students, collaborated with faculty and staff from every corner of campus, taught courses, and did just about everything one can do at a university? Did I mention she earned three degrees along the way?

Daria is a builder, a connector, an advocate, a friend, and a partner. She pushed students hard when they needed it and hugged them when they were down. Similarly, you have never seen a fiercer champion for the essence and merit of UD, nor someone who pushed for change and accountability when we fell short of our promise and our values. So, to say that Dr. Graham will be missed is the understatement of the year. Her wise counsel to me and others, her mentorship of students and staff, her belief in the University of Dayton, her hard work — they are irreplaceable in many ways.

But make no doubt about it: Daria has changed this University both through her “official” responsibilities as well as her “I-love-the-University-and-will-do-what-I-need-to-do-to-make-it-better” mindset.

She went from working as an undergraduate RA to making housing assignments, and from leading student leadership programs to serving as associate dean of students and executive director for the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center, developing important programs along the way that will long outlive her presence here. Hundreds — no, thousands — of students have found their vocations and graduated from UD to make a difference in the world, thanks to her guidance. These are incredible legacies. Just incredible.

In her “I-love-the-University-and-will-do-what-I-need-to-do-to-make-it-better” attitude, she has advocated, pushed and pulled, and done what is necessary at any moment to help us understand our values and mission, to lean into the task of diversifying the university, increasing equity, and enhancing inclusiveness. Just one example: I understand that when Daria entered UD as a first-year student, she was one of just 75 Black students in the entire university. In the entering class ALONE this fall, 163 Black students will join the UD community. Sure, Daria does not lead the Enrollment Management division nor is she an admissions counselor, but this increase in representation has her fingerprints all over it. She works tirelessly to make UD a welcoming home for all students.

So, Dr. Graham: THANK YOU. You have made YOUR University of Dayton a much better and more just place. We wish you great success at Cal State San Bernardino, but we don’t have to wish you “good luck” because you won’t need it. You are a pro, and Cal State is blessed to have such an excellent addition to its administrative leadership team.

As our triple alumna and a long-time employee, we know that you will not lose touch, and we look forward to your engagement here in new ways. We know that you will continue to fiercely advocate for us as we continue to strive. We know that you will always love the University, our students, and our people.

UD is forever changed because of that love. And know that we love you, too.

Godspeed, Daria.

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