A whale of a debate: opinions vary over senior gift

A great debate has overcome the senior class as students discuss the possible senior gift. Some seniors are advocating for a statue of a whale that harkens back to Moby Dick, while other ideas include statues of Athena, Mary or a Crusader. 





Alex Pellegrino argues against the whale:


The senior gift is a time-honored University of Dallas tradition that, according to an article in The University News written by Sara Crotty in 2007, has “been present at UD since its inception.” After examining recent tendencies, I have noticed that the gifts in the past 10 years seem to have each fallen into one of two categories. The first category includes things that the university has expressed a need for, such as a new flagpole or money for library books. The second includes serious additions that beautify the campus, such as trees and benches given in the name of a deceased faculty member, the mosaics in the Cap Bar (which depict religious images and architecture as well as the beauty of the Rome campus), or the seal hanging in Haggar Foyer.

The whale statue proposed by some in the senior class does not fit into either of these categories. It has certainly not been expressed as a need by the university; there is already a fountain in Braniff that is sufficient. It is also not a serious beautification addition; many UD students, especially seniors, see it as a ridiculous joke, which is very unlike the nature of past gifts to the school.

A weak argument may be made that it celebrates UD’s intellectual tradition, as it does connect to one of our Core texts, but it is certainly not a reverent celebration; it is irreverent and silly. However, what is most disturbing is that it is being pushed by a small, vocal minority of my class members. The senior gift should be representative of the class as a whole. At least the majority of the class of 2015 should have to approve of any proposal that is taken seriously.

I have talked to many of my class members about this proposal, and most think the whale is a laughable idea. According to Dominic Dougherty, a fellow senior student government senator, Dr. Plotts, vice president of enrollment and student affairs, gave a ballpark figure of $5,000 for the whale statue. In my opinion and the opinion of many of my classmates, that $5,000 would be much better put towards a different gift, one that is more serious and liked by the majority of seniors. I encourage all members of the class of 2015 to take the survey that will soon be posted on Crusader Connect, which will present all of the gift proposals to date, so that we can agree upon a more suitable gift that our class may be better remembered by.


Division among the senior class invokes discussion and debates over what makes an appropriate senior gift.  -Photo courtesy of fastcocreate
Division among the senior class invokes discussion and debates over what makes an appropriate senior gift.
-Photo courtesy of fastcocreate

Alex Taylor argues for the whale:


Few people at the University of Dallas would argue that we possess an excessive amount of art. For a university dedicated to Western tradition, this is a great lack. As we have learned from Greek philosophers and Church Fathers alike, the unity of the true, the good and the beautiful through art should be used to lead us to true knowledge, especially that important knowledge described in the Delphic maxim “know thyself.”

When evaluating ideas for a senior gift, we should first examine what has been given by our alma mater, and choose a gift that demonstrates true liberal learning. The three most touted elements of the university are the Core curriculum, the Rome semester and our Catholic identity. The proposed whale fountain for Braniff Foyer embodies these elements as well as the aspects of playfulness, mystery and tradition within our educational philosophy.

The whale represents an opportunity to bring the Core alive. Lit Trad IV and Melville’s “Moby Dick” each signify the summation of what came before, the long tradition of the Leviathan in Western civilization, and the combination of genres — epic, lyric and dramatic — explored in the Lit Trad sequence. The whale also reminds us of the story of Jonah, which is deeply central to our Catholic faith. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says that no sign will be given us but the sign of Jonah.

The connection to Rome can be seen in the long Roman tradition of beautifully artistic fountains such as the Trevi Fountain, the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona and the Fountain of the Pantheon. Although these fountains are not useful in a utilitarian sense, art is truly the most useful thing of all. As Chesterton said, “art is the signature of man”; it illustrates what it means to be human and to live in community. A whale fountain is childlike and yet not childish. It would not look infantile, but beautiful, a fitting representation of our great ideals and the grandeur of God’s creation. It depicts the heart of the university’s self-understanding, its playfulness and intellectual dedication, which protects us from the false, sterile professionalism which goes hand-in-hand with modern iconoclasm.

Finally, its dedication to Dr. Eugene Curtsinger, one of the university’s founders, shows our appreciation for the tradition of great thinkers who have shaped our culture. He was our first dean, a longtime English professor and a decorated World War II hero who understood the whale as a mysterious symbol of our Christian journey and liberal arts education. Curtsinger briefly explained his view of the classic novel in his 2004 King-Haggar address, “Moby Dick on Campus,” and at length in his posthumously published book, “Seascape Soulscape: Moby-Dick.”  To honor him thus would be to treasure tradition and to show our gratitude for what we’ve been given.”


  1. I can tell you a ton of alumni would be more than willing to dump cash into the whale. A Crusader? Not really. Mary? A bit better than Crusader. Athena? Interesting enough to do better than Mary, but not quite as well as a whale.


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