Faculty Spotlight Professor Edward O’Donnell
Published: Friday, February 28, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014 13:02
For those of you who haven’t yet met our Holy Cross history professor, Edward O’Donnell, here’s your chance. Prior to my interview, I had never met Professor O’Donnell and had only heard from one of his students, Jake Medina, that O’Donnell “is freakin’ awesome.” My meeting with Professor O’Donnell did not disappoint. As a former Holy Cross student turned professor, he knows this school inside and out and has a wealth of advice for students.
Professor O’Donnell first came to Holy Cross in 1982 as a member of the freshman class of ’86, and believe it or not, for his first semester on campus, he was initially pre-med. Pre-med wasn’t exactly his strong suit, as O’Donnell proudly boasts nowadays that his first semester GPA was only a 1.82. Today, he keeps a sticker on his door that reads “1.82” to serve as a reminder that “the goal of college is not graduating, but intellectual self-discovery.” O’Donnell says that our four years as undergraduates are not as a means to an end, but a time for maturation, personal growth, and accumulating wisdom.
After O’Donnell’s achievement in pre-med, he decided to switch majors and give history a try. O’Donnell says that in his second semester of freshman year, he knew he wanted to be a professor at Holy Cross and have an office on the third floor of O’Kane. Looking back, O’Donnell says his dreams of professorship at Holy Cross had the odds of “a million to one” and that an opening depended on one of the tenured professors “quitting, retiring, or dying.” Nevertheless, O’Donnell returned to Holy Cross in ’01 as a professor.
Switching majors, O’Donnell says, is nothing to fear. It’s a part of when “you begin living your life.” According to O’Donnell, you live your life the way your parents want you to, the way your teachers want you to, and the way anyone else has been making you live it right up until you go off to college. Once you make it to college, it is time for you to make your own decisions about how you want to live. While “parents are often a good source of advice,” O’Donnell warns freshmen against following their advice too closely. “College is about establishing your own insights… and emerging aspirations.” So, if you’re not meant to be pre-med, don’t be pre-med!
Professor O’Donnell, as a former student, knows Holy Cross better than most. He regards Holy Cross as a comfortable place, and appreciates that he gets the chance to really know his students. One student he was able to share his advice with first met him as a freshman. Though she had never taken any of his classes, she came to his office one day to ask for a spot in one of his classes. When she began talking about classes, she burst into tears over extreme homesickness. O’Donnell, as kindly as he could, comforted her over a box of tissues and gave her a spot in his class. He remarks now that helping students, such as the girl who was homesick, is one of the things he loves most about Holy Cross. He loved getting the chance to see her become an OL, talk to new freshmen about being homesick, and later go on to study abroad–no longer worried about leaving home at all.