April 2021 In Her Own Words: From Classroom to Column
Eileen (O’Grady) Daday ‘77 met American Studies Professor Elizabeth Christman during her first year at Notre Dame, and the relationship ultimately inspired Daday’s 35-year career as a journalist. Read on for her reflections on covering nascent women's sports in the Observer, bats in the Walsh hallway, and courses that made a life-long impact.
In Her Own Words: From Classroom to Column
by Eileen (O'Grady) Daday '77
Back in 1980, my former American Studies professor, Elizabeth Christman, adapted an essay for Notre Dame Magazine from a talk she had given at Junior Parents’ Weekend. In it, she addressed parents’ concerns about whether their children would land a job after graduating. She recommended parents adopt an “existential serenity,” especially when they think back on the many chances and serendipitous encounters that had shaped their own lives. For me, having Miss Christman was something of a serendipitous encounter, and our relationship did indeed shape my future.
I was in the second class of admitted women at Notre Dame, and, even before I was accepted, I rambled on in my interview about how the university’s communications major was just what I wanted. Much to my surprise, and chagrin, at the end of the visit the admissions counselor told me that they had decided to eliminate the communications major that year and instead weave those courses into the American Studies major. I said I’d think about whether I still wanted to come. Of course, I did! I dreamed of becoming a reporter, and I saw a communications major as the means to become one. However, as Miss Christman said in her talk, my liberal arts education did not guarantee me a job upon graduating. But, it did give me an education for life.
I moved into Walsh Hall on a steamy hot day in August 1973. My roommate, Dana, and I shared a double on the fourth floor with a ledge outside the window where, the year before, the student body president, King Karsten, delivered his victory address. Those first few days were memorable. Our first night, we heard transoms being shut, one after the next. We quickly jumped out of our beds to close ours, only to learn the reason: bats had escaped from the suitcase room at the end of the hall. When the semester began, I scrambled to learn the campus and make my way from one end to another to get to my classes. It was a far cry from my small, all-girls Catholic high school in suburban Chicago.
At some point during that first year, I began writing for The Observer. They were relatively short stories, nothing memorable, but it was a start. By junior year, I took on the role of assignment editor and also wrote about the fledgling women’s sports teams. I had no background in sports, but I worked part time in the Interhall Athletics office and learned about some of the teams starting up. It was also during those third and fourth years that I was able to take more American Studies courses, including communications classes. My senior year, I signed up for a course that seemed to offer everything I wanted: “Writing for Publication.” While the course definitely challenged me, it was the first-year teacher who made a lasting impression: Miss Christman.
Christman was one of the few women teachers I had during my four years, and she was fascinating. Teaching was a second career for her. She came to Notre Dame after working for 20 years at a literary agency in New York. In the spring semester of my senior year, Miss Christman brought her literary experience to her students through a new course: “Book Publishing.” In it, we read through prospective manuscripts, went through the editing process and eventually published and marketed a book. I took the course just because she taught it. Together with my classmates, we chose to work with Prof. Ralph McInerny and his short fiction piece, “Quick as a Dodo.” Little did we know that he would write the first of the Fr. Dowling mysteries that same year.
During my second course with Miss Christman, I became closer to her. We talked about my dreams of becoming a writer and she encouraged me. She even tried to convince me to go to New York and carve out a career there. She ended the semester by inviting the class over to her apartment for dinner. That was a thrill, to get to know a teacher outside the classroom.
I graduated that May and a little over one year later married Steve, who also graduated in ’77. I deferred my writing search for a few years while he was in law school and we started having children. But in 1986, when my third child was one year old, I answered an ad to write for our local newspaper, the Daily Herald, which covers the Chicago suburbs. I started writing sports stories and eventually landed my own column. Through the years, I kept in touch with Miss Christman, proudly updating her on my journalism career. She always wrote back and said she loved hearing about my work. Miss Christman passed away in 2010 and many students wrote similar stories about the impact she had made.
As I approach 35 years at the Daily Herald (this fall!), I give thanks for that serendipitous encounter with a first-year professor, who believed in my dream of becoming a writer and challenged me to do it.
Editor's Note: Thanks to Notre Dame Archives for the header photo of Eileen's 1976 Observer piece on Title IX and equal opportunity in sports.