Class acts: Senior stories of distinction

Author: Dennis Brown, Shannon Chapla and Julie Flory


The University of Notre Dames 2005 graduating class can be defined collectively, through a variety of numerical and statistical observations, as well as individually, through the stories of seniors with compelling tales to tell.

Some of the numbers are:

  • About 95 percent of the 2,040 undergraduates who enrolled at Notre Dame in the fall of 2001 will receive a diploma Sunday (May 15) – one of the top five graduation rates in the nation.
  • Some 80 percent of the graduates participated in volunteer and service-learning programs in the greaterSouth Bendarea, nationwide and around the world.
  • About 10 percent of this years seniors will continue in volunteer service to society, engaging in a year or more of work in programs such as the Peace Corps, Teach forAmerica, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Notre DamesAlliancefor Catholic Education and Holy Cross Associates.
  • All 50 of theUnited Statesare represented in the senior class, making Notre Dame among the nations most geographically diverse universities.

Beyond the numbers, here are a few individual senior stories of distinction:

Melody Gonzalez,Santa Ana,Calif.- Likened to labor leader Delores Huerta, Gonzalez is the child of Mexican immigrants and the first in her family to graduate from college. She has made social activism and service to Latinos a top priority. A cum laude graduate in political science, she is a member of the Peace Coalition and Progressive Student Alliance, and, since age 11, has used poetry, song and dance to express ideas about her heritage, personal experiences and political views.She played the guitar in the Spanish Mass choir, Coro Primavera, and inMariachiND, and danced in Ballet Folklorico Azul y Oro. She helped organize two marches for immigrant rights inSouth Bendand co-founded the new group MEChA de ND (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan).Gonzalez has been involved in numerous farm worker rallies and trips with the Center for Social Concerns, including the Migrant Experiences Seminar, Border Issues Seminar, and International Summer Service Learning Program inTijuana,Mexico.After graduation, Gonzalez plans to work with the Student Farmworker Alliance and Interfaith Action inImmokalee,Fla.

_Gonzalez can be reached at _

Fran Larkin, Granger,Ind.- A marketing major and past president of the Entrepreneurs Club, Larkin didn’t wait until graduation to join the dot-com world. He is the founder of InternNation ( ), a free on-line community that allows Notre Dame students who are participating in internships to connect and share resources while away from home. Through the site, students can find housing, roommates and friends in some 50 majorU.S.cities. Larkin, a two-time winner of the McCloskey Business Plan Competition, will embark on his first for-profit on-line venture after graduation, when he begins work for the Salt Lake City-based retail and auction site

Larkin can be reached at .

Jon Morgan, Manchester, N.H. - As a junior in high school, Morgan created a mentoring program called Staying Cool After School (SCAS) that paired middle school students with the people he thought they looked up to the most – high school students. Now, some five years later, with Morgan continuing to serve from afar as an advisor, the program is going strong. It has even expanded toPascagoula,Miss., the hometown ofSaint Marys College student Etienne Melcher, who heard about the program from Morgan and exported it to her community. In addition to his studies and work with SCAS, Morgan served as production manager for the Notre Dame-based journal Review of Politics, traveled toChileto serve in two orphanages, and conducted summer research projects inCairo,Jerusalemand theWest Bank. An Arabic studies and political science double major, he has secured a translation and analysis position with a government agency in Washington, D.C., where – not surprisingly – he hopes to soon establish another SCAS program.

_Morgan can be reached at jmorgan@nd.eud _

Brendan and Kevan ONeill, Lima, Ohio - Identical twins, Brendan and Kevan are the sons of a Double Domer (dad James A. ONeill,78,01) whogrew up loving Notre Dame, and always knew (they) wanted to come here,according to Kevan. They have swapped first-place finishes throughout their lives – Brendan was born two minutes earlier, Kevan finished first and Brendan was second in their high school graduating classes, and now Brendan has finished a couple of places ahead of Kevan at Notre Dame, both with grade point averages above 3.9 as science pre-professional studies (pre-med) majors. Among their many collegiate experiences were a semester of study inLondon, participation last summer in the Global Young Leaders Summit inAustralia, and service as counselors at Camp Rap-a-Hope, a childrens oncology camp inAlabama, andCampKesem, a camp for children whose parents have cancer. The twins express similar sentiments about their most enduring impressions of the University. In Kevans words:Notre Dame is a beautiful place – the Grotto, lakes, Golden Dome – but it is the people here who really make the place special. Its really hard to put this feeling into words. Its an experience you have to have. People care about you here.The ONeills will continue their educations together in the fall at the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery.

_The ONeills can be reached at or _

Marco Sandusky,South Bend- A self-describedLeeper rat,Sanduskyoften could be found throughout his youth playing tennis on the courts atLeeperParknear downtownSouth Bend. This past summer, between his junior and senior years at Notre Dame, he gave something back to the park, working as its tennis director. In addition to teaching the finer points of the game, he also created the Tennis and Reading Challenge, an initiative in which children ages 6-12 set goals for both reading books and playing tennis. Court fees were waived for participants, and about 60 children signed up. Those with the best results received a free trip to the RCA Championships tennis tournament last summer inIndianapolis. The program will continue this summer under the direction of a local teacher, Nancy Mah.Sandusky, meanwhile, spent some of his free time throughout this past academic year helping initiate an after-school tennis program atPerleyPrimaryCenter. Created in conjunction with the South Bend Community Tennis Association, a new non-profit groupSanduskyhelped found, the program includes both tennis instruction and mentoring. The tennis association also has launched an Arthur Ashe Essay Contest, in which students at Perley write about the effect the late tennis star Ashe had on American society. An American studies major, Sandusky will spend the next two years teaching elementary school – and, no doubt, a little tennis – in Mississippi as part of the Teach for America program.

Sandusky _can be reached at _

Amy Peterson, Birmingham, Ala. - Chandra Johnson, executive assistant to the Notre Dame president and director of cross-cultural programs in Campus Ministry, commissioned Peterson last fall to create a painting of a multicultural Virgin Mary to be presented by the Minority Alumni Network to retiring President Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., as a tribute to his commitment to diversity. Petersons painting,Notre Dame, Our Universal Mother,uses various symbols to represent African-American, Hispanic, East Indian, Asian-American and Native American alumni, and it now hangs in a prominent location in Father Malloys office.Using my background in environmental philosophy, I portrayed Mary with spiritual and physical qualities that Mother Nature embodies – strength, gentleness, fertility and integrity,Peterson says.The process of painting was a spiritual experience and a labor of love.Petersons mother is fromMexicoand her father fromBirmingham, where she was born and raised. The family traveled widely when she was young, and Peterson became especially fond of the westernUnited States. That love of the West, combined with her own artistic talents, has turned into a focus on art and the environment; she currently is working on a series of paintings of wolves. Following Commencement, she will spend five months offering environmental and cultural education as a backcountry tour guide inCanyonlandsNational ParkinUtah. She then plans to begin a two-year course of graduate study in art at an institution to be determined.

_Peterson can be reached at _

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