By MICHAEL S. AMEIGH
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, something we professors know and undergraduates learn. Professors have a leg up because they have been around longer. Undergraduates, being relatively new to the world, sometimes confuse our longevity with what they perceive to be wisdom. We enjoy basking in their admiration, of course, but students bring more to the teacher-student relationship than they sometimes discern.
For me one of those unexpected turns came in 1983 when I met an undergraduate named John Domino. He was the first student I met in my first class on my first day as a college professor at St. Bonaventure, a course called Video Production. There were two students and no equipment. I had never taught a college course before.
The studio was the projection booth at the back of the lecture hall. With minimal academic credentials at the time, my primary qualification for joining the faculty was a decade-long tenure in the radio business. I was ready to give academe a try, but the jury was out on how long I might last in this new environment.
Two significant developments put things on track:
- First, Dr. Jandoli came into the classroom to deliver a brand new VHS camcorder. I am convinced to this day he held it back until that critical moment in order to raise my spirits when the reality that we would be starting from scratch acquiring equipment and learning how to use it set in. By the time he left he had us believing that his many friends at CBS had personally picked out this camcorder and were waiting by the phone for confirmation that I was satisfied it would meet our needs.
- The second significant development was that John Domino took me under his wing.
John was an upperclassman when I came to Bona's. He took several courses from me, always did excellent work, and always hung around to see what he could learn that was not on the syllabus. He had me pegged for what I was, a neophyte learning the ropes.
At one point we heard the local BOCES was selling a truckload of professional video equipment. John and I worked both sides of the street to put the arm on President Doyle for funds. I pleaded the faculty case and John mobilized students. We got the equipment, installed it, and were soon taking on production projects.
Often I ran the gear while John served as talent. We produced television news shows, documentaries about student housing, recruiting videos for basketball coach Jim O'Brien, campus tours for admissions, community projects, cable television commercials, and countless other ventures. It was great fun, a time of discovery for me as much as for John.
I enjoyed his company and admired his intellect, strong character and happy optimism. I remember, too, the day he graduated. I had never attended a college graduation until that day, having lived under the delusion that such events are a waste of time.
Our last video project together was taping the graduation ceremony in the Reilly Center. He helped me set up equipment before putting on a gown and joining his fellow graduates. When the ceremony was over and he and his classmates began to drift off, I felt like my heart had been torn out. But John was not the type to wander away. The day after graduation the phone rang; he wanted help finding a sportscaster's job in his hometown of Buffalo (he had been a spotter for play-by-play announcer Van Miller during Buffalo Bills broadcasts on WBEN).
I was determined to push him beyond that goal for the time being. We found him an internship in the promotion department at NBC Sports for the summer. He was not happy there at first. His passion was production, not promotion, he said. I convinced him to call the production department down the hall and see if they needed someone to help out with the Game of the Week baseball broadcasts on Saturday afternoons. The under-staffed production crew grabbed him, and before the summer was done he had made connections with all the big sports personalities at NBC. In the fall he was back in Buffalo trying to land a radio job.
I received a call from Chris LaPlaca, a Bona grad then putting together a new cable channel called ESPN with a merry band of twenty-something overachievers. These were bright people whose primary qualification was that they had huge memory banks full of arcane sports trivia they could deliver on demand.
LaPlaca was looking to hire a Bona grad with similar capabilities. I recommended John. He took the job and fell in love with it, moved to Bristol, Connecticut, and married his college sweetheart. I was ready to believe life would go on happily ever after for him.
The last time I heard from John was about a year before he died. He called from the Thruway to say hello and to tell me he was now employed by the Empire Sports Network, that he had moved back to Buffalo because someone in the family had cancer and needed special treatment. From that conversation I would never have guessed he was talking about himself. He was upbeat, spoke of getting together for lunch sometime soon, and promised to stay in touch.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that for me there is nothing more rewarding than working with undergraduates. Like most professors, I have scads of favorite students, and each has left a precious mark on me. From John Domino I learned that Bill and Ted were right -- teaching and learning can be an Excellent Adventure.
He encouraged me in my first tentative steps in the classroom by ignoring the blunders and responding positively to my better efforts. It is also hugely gratifying to me that others perceived his potential and put his career on a rocket.
I have told the John Domino story to countless students as they sought to muster the courage to reach beyond the familiar and the safe for that next level, and have had the high privilege of seeing them succeed the way he did. John was a gift to us all, and his memory will always be a personal treasure of mine.