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Inspiring article following the death of Stephen Donnelly (non-hazing but alcohol-related death)

I wanted to share this older, well-written essay with the blog readers: I found it excellent reading and hope you agree.
∆X Quarterly Summer/Fall 1999 11
There is a hearse sitting beside the
Amasa Stone Chapel. I have never
seen that before. The Chapel has been
the site of thousands of joyous events in its
history. It was dedicated in 1911 and has
seen hundreds of graduation ceremonies,
university convocations, guest speakers and
other activities. Some of my friends were
even married there. But today, there is a
hearse sitting outside.
From my seventh floor office, high above
campus, I can see well-dressed students
walking from different parts of our urban
campus toward the chapel. They are
huddled against the wind and their heads
are down. For a gray, winter day, this day
has an aura of sadness around it that is un-
usual, even for the bleak wintertime of north-
east Ohio. A young person has died.
Stephen Donnelly was a freshman at Case
Western Reserve University. I went to his fu-
neral. It was packed, with every seat taken
and people lined up in the aisles. The crowd
of 725, I am told, was the largest crowd ever
in the Amasa Stone Chapel. There were sobs
from the front. Sniffles in the back. As I sat
there, I began to wonder. Do young people
with absolutely nothing going for them ever
die? It seems like every time a tragedy strikes,
the victim is a well-liked, talented, gifted per-
son with a loving family and lots of friends.
Stephen was just that. I know, because I sat
and listened as his friends eulogized him. A
pretty young woman told of their short time
together and looked at his coffin and told
Stephen she loved him. His best friend and
roommate told of their relationship and how
his friend had inspired him to work hard and
have fun. And he told Stephen he loved him.
Stephen’s father told of how three people are
now living with Stephen’s donated organs
and of the kind of person Stephen was. And
he told Stephen he loved him.
Stephen’s rabbi told a parable that says
whenever God needs flowers for the gar-
den in heaven, he does not pick old, wilted
flowers. When the garden becomes de-
pleted, God picks young, vibrant, beautiful
flowers that will fill the garden in heaven
with beauty. Stephen was young and vi-
brant and beautiful.
I am not sure why I went to the funeral. I
don’t think I ever met Stephen, although I
did do a presentation to his fraternity last
fall on fraternity values. It is funny because
the first thing I asked the Zeta Psi Chapter
assembled in front of me that evening was,
“What do you stand for as an organization?”
They were unable to answer that question for
me. I quoted to them their own mission state-
ment from the Zeta Psi handbook, and it was
almost like they had never heard the words
before. Some of them gave me answers about
the brotherhood and such. We talked about
rituals and values, and it was the beginning
of a good dialogue, but I really don’t know if
the dialogue continued after that.
As I sat at Stephen’s funeral, I realized
that Zeta Psi really did know what it stood
for. The President of the Chapter stood and
eulogized their friend and told everyone in
attendance why they pledged Stephen
Donnelly. He described the type of person
they wanted to join their fraternity. They
wanted people of character, with charisma,
with a genuine commitment to other people
and with a desire to work hard and succeed.
They found all of those things in this young
man, and in this whole process of friendship
and now grief, they discovered their values.
About four years ago I wrote of a
young man pictured outside of his frater-
nity house in Iowa City as the lifeless
body of one of his brothers was wheeled
from the house, the victim of alcohol poi-
soning. I said then that I wish every Delta
Chi could feel what he was feeling at that
moment without having to experience
what he was experiencing.
As I sat at Stephen’s funeral, I found my-
self wishing that every Delta Chi was sitting
there with me. Then, after the funeral, I could
go into a separate room and ask all of my
brothers one simple question. “Why do you
think this can’t happen to you?”
Stephen Donnelly was smart. He had a
3.8 grade point average at a university
where many of us could not even get ac-
cepted based on our academic performance
and test scores. He was popular and so-
ciable, not a social recluse as many book
worms are. If it can happen to a smart, well-
liked, good-looking guy from a good fam-
ily, how can anyone reading this think it
could never happen to them? That is just
not logical thinking.
The only way this type of tragedy will
never happen to you is if you simply don’t
allow it to happen. And that means you have
to change your actions. You have to look out
for each other. You have to pay attention to
the risk management policies of the Frater-
nity. Take a stand. Don’t let drinkers drive
(notice I didn’t say drunks, I said drinkers.)
Care about your brothers and friends. Don’t
dare them. Shots kill young people. I have
never heard of anyone with alcohol poison-
ing who simply drank beer. When your broth-
ers and friends are doing shots, and I realize
they probably will do shots, they are begin-
ning to play with their lives. Don’t let them.
That is your job. Just say “enough.”
Have fun, but not at the expense of
someone’s, maybe your own, safety and well-
being. Believe me, there is nothing fun about
how Stephen’s life ended this week.
The Amasa Stone Chapel is built in the
style of fourteenth-century Gothic architecture
similar to the impressive Cathedral Church
of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington, D.C.
The dean at that institution pointed out why
the structure is distinctive:
To pretend that man is the measure of all
things is arrogant. A Gothic cathedral,
with its pointed arches and dissymmetry,
stands for the fact that the ultimate real-
ity is not man but mystery.
There is a lot of mystery surrounding the
death of Stephen Donnelly. There is also a lot
of certainty. You are not immune from this
type of tragedy. And you can make sure it
doesn’t happen to you or someone you care
about. That much is certain.
By Steve Bossart, Kent State ’90
Steve Bossart, Kent State ’90, served as
a member of the Fraternity’s staff from
1990 to 1998. He is currently working as
Director of Annual Giving for the College
of Arts and Sciences at Case Western
Reserve University in Cleveland where
Stephen Donnelly was a freshman prior to
his death.
Donnelly, 18, died Monday, February 15
after being found unconscious in his
residence hall’s bathroom. He was from
Hudson, Ohio, and a member of Zeta Psi
Fraternity. He and some friends had
attended a party at another fraternity on
that Saturday evening. They returned to
Pierce House after the party. Donnelly
became ill and friends assisted him until
approximately 4:30 a.m., when he went to
his room to sleep.
Around 1:50 p.m. Sunday, he arose and
went to the bathroom. Fellow residents
found him there around 2 p.m. and
contacted CWRU Security. Campus
security found him lying unconscious on
the floor and bleeding from an injury to the
back of his head. Cleveland Emergency
Medical Service (EMS) arrived within
minutes and transported Donnelly to Mt.
Sinai Hospital. He was later transferred to
University Hospitals of Cleveland, where
he died. The Cuyahoga County Coroner
indicated that the injury to his head was
the cause of death.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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