Finding a friend
In October 2020, Mara Shaneyfelt ’20 said her Instagram account blew up. It seemed everyone she knew — as well as those she had never met — was touched by her personal story of tragedy and strength and wanted to share with her words of encouragement.
The University of Dayton had just released a video highlighting the relationship Shaneyfelt, an early education major, had forged with assistant professor Jackie Arnold. Shaneyfelt’s mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she didn’t know if her mom would live to see her daughter graduate.
“I was a mess, I was crying,” Shaneyfelt says in the video of the moment she shared the news with her professor. “I explained to her also how I felt about telling her. I was like, ‘I don’t do well asking for help.’”
Shaneyfelt said she’s a lot like her mom in that respect: strong and supportive but quick to deflect attention and slow to ask for help.
But when Shaneyfelt did, she discovered not only an ally but a friend.
“It’s important for me as a professor to be available to my students at any point in time and in any way they want me to be available,” Arnold says in the video. “I’m here for you. That’s so important to me in terms of our Marianist commitment. We are a family.”
Arnold arranged for an early graduation ceremony to be held just after Christmas 2019 in Shaneyfelt’s home. Her brother, Tyler, stood alongside her in his own cap and gown in a ceremony for his high school graduation. Their mom was granted her wish of being present for their celebrations; she died Jan. 12, 2020.
Shaneyfelt, who completed her degree with honors in May 2020, said she and Arnold have maintained their connection, messaging back and forth and sharing updates on Facebook.
“I’ve learned a lot in my life, and I think others are learning from it to take their lives one day at a time.”
This winter, Arnold emailed her with a request: I don’t know if you’re ready, but I have another student who just lost a parent. You have wisdom to share.
“It was special that she still looks to me as someone who can help,” said Shaneyfelt, who sends the student texts of encouragement and support.
Just over a year since her mom’s death, Shaneyfelt said she and Tyler are doing well.
“I’m finally settling in and feel a lot of peace,” she said.
Tyler is a first-year student at Wilmington College playing infield and pitching for the baseball team. Shaneyfelt teaches fourth grade in Kettering, Ohio, as a long-term substitute for a teacher who could not return to the classroom. She said her student-teaching experience in March 2020, when grade schools suddenly went remote, helped prepare her for this unusual school year.
“The good part about it is everyone is a first-year teacher this year because everyone is having to learn and navigate the year,” she said.
Shaneyfelt said she’s learned a lot in her life, and while the circumstances that produced those lessons were not ideal, she is moving forward thanks to personal strength and the support of others, like Arnold.
“I want people to know my story because I feel there’s something in it that can help other people,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot in my life, and I think others are learning from it to take their lives one day at a time.”
The video created by the University of Dayton sharing Mara Shaneyfelt's story has been viewed nearly 34,000 times across all social media platforms. The post to Facebook included comments like these:
"I am a breast cancer survivor and today my daughter got accepted to UD. I can already tell what a special place it is. Thank you for this beautiful story."
"Mara Shaneyfelt, I'm so proud of you! I have watched this video many times. You are amazing! You will do great things."
"Jackie Arnold, you go above and beyond everyday day for your students. Any flyer is lucky to have you as a professor. I am beyond blessed to have had you as one of my professors for many classes at UD. You helped me grow, become more confident, and helped shape the educator I am today."