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Bob Woodside, Arts 1983

A letter that changed everything

Director, Advancement Communications
Duquesne University

I longed to follow my grandfather to his alma mater, a renowned Catholic school in northern Indiana that shall remain nameless. Though he had passed away five years earlier, he had been a proud alumnus who donated large sums religiously, a tradition my grandmother had carried on.

I was at the top of my high school class, had strong test scores, and was being wooed by colleges across the country. The folks under the golden dome were somewhat less impressed, and put me on a waiting list. I understood that this particular institution was extremely competitive, but my grandmother was having none of that. She wrote a letter directly to the school’s legendary president, who to our surprise sent a personal reply. Alas, it was not the answer she was looking for. She lived another 20 years, but never sent another check to old…you know who.

Plan B was my father’s alma mater, another Catholic school in southwestern Ohio (think “DU” spelled backwards). Dad was also a loyal annual donor, and they were offering me a full ride, until some poor clerk in the financial aid office lost my paperwork. It wasn’t found until after the deadline had passed, and the school made no attempt to make good on its offer. Like my grandmother, Dad expressed his displeasure with his wallet. He hasn’t sent them a dime since.

Eventually, I landed at Duquesne, where I had no family ties but found connections of my own. Originally planning to go on to law school (like my grandfather), I discovered my passion for the written and spoken word, adding a second major in journalism to my study of political science. The stories of late nights in the radio studio, road trips with the Pep Band and various and sundry other escapades could fill volumes; let’s just say that my four years here were unforgettable.

And then they were over, or so I thought. I spent five years in local radio and newspapers in Ohio and West Virginia before fate brought me back to our Bluff. I arrived in Public Affairs in 1988, just before the renaissance that totally transformed this campus began. I worked there for 17 years before being asked to start our Advancement Communications operation in 2005.

We talk a lot around here about the Spirit—the Spirit that gives life; the Spirit that moves, that leads, that guides. It was surely divine intervention that brought me to Duquesne, has kept me here for more than a quarter of a century, and grants me the pleasure of working—of all places—in a development office, given the effect my college search had on two universities’ fundraising!

Much has changed since then, in my life and in the life of this university. Many of the places I frequented as a student no longer exist. The student body is larger; the atmosphere much more driven and competitive. Our expectations and aspirations as a learning community are higher.

To those of us who have been here all along, it has seemed like a gradual and natural evolution. For those who return after years or decades away, the changes are nothing less than astounding.

But rest assured, the Spirit of welcome and service that drew us all here is alive and thriving; it permeates every corner of our Bluff and beyond. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.