UNH Grants a Wish

Connor O’Neill isn’t your average 11-year-old. Doctor’s appointments, check-ups, and various types of therapy are a regular part of his life due to a life threatening condition called 22q. Connor’s condition is caused by a missing 22nd chromosome. Health issues including heart, kidney, and stomach problems, along with others, are a result of his condition.

Photo by Samantha Reposa

Photo by Samantha Reposa

Connor has had ten open heart surgeries and after his first one, something called a complete heart block stopped his heart’s ability to produce a signal to beat, so Connor now has a pacemaker.

Connor is currently in a relatively stable condition. His last surgery was over a year ago and his last open heart surgery was over five years ago. Connor’s days consist of various appointments including doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, occupational therapy, social skills classes, blood draws, and more. This is where Make-A-Wish comes in.

On Saturday, April 23, the University of New Haven and the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted the first part of Connor’s wish of taking a cruise to the Mediterranean. Before the O’Neill family left to embark on their cruise, Connor would be signing a one-day contract to play on the UNH football team.

Across the country, over $4 million has been raised for the Make-A-Wish Foundation with the average cost of granting a wish to be about $10,000. Last year, UNH led the Northeast-10 Conference in fundraising with a total of $5,400. Because UNH was the leader in their conference, the University was able to grant the wish of one child this year.

“You can make kids like me have their wishes come true. I’m so thankful,” Connor said.

According to Michael Dominick, Community and Media Relations Manager for Make-A-Wish Connecticut, the process of assigning a child to a fundraising organization is mainly based on geography, as well as what works best with the child’s personality. “We like to put them in a situation that makes them the most comfortable.” This is why Connor was chosen for UNH, his energy and love for people made him a perfect match.

Photo by Samantha Reposa

Photo by Samantha Reposa

The day started off when the O’Neill family was welcomed by students from various groups and organizations, staff, and faculty at the University of New Haven gymnasium. SAAC, Alpha Sigma Alpha, UNH Pride, Delta Phi Epsilon, Charge Up, and Legal Society were amongst the many groups involved. Connor energetically shook hands, high-fived, and hugged members of the UNH community, spreading his joy with everyone there.

Photo by Samantha Reposa

Photo by Samantha Reposa

Following the initial greeting was a press conference held by the athletic department where Connor signed his one-day contract to play as a Charger. He then found his locker where his very own Charger jersey, football pads, and cleats were waiting for him. After changing into his gear, he met with the remainder of the team to listen to Coach Pincince talk about the game plan. Connor then led the team onto the field, cheered on by the marching band, cheerleaders, and supporting fans.

After the team warm-up, the O’Neill family climbed aboard the S.S. Connor, a golf cart decorated as a cruise ship, and began a mock journey modeling the trip that was soon to come. Six different stations representing the six different cities on the cruise were set up around the outside of the field with various donated baskets for Connor and his family.

Sponsors, including Milford Photo, Dick’s Sporting Goods, AC Moore, Hull Art Supply, Sodexo, LaCuisine, Cappetta’s, Hummel’s, Adidas, Champion’s Choice, Tag Up, and Riddell, all contributed to making Connor’s day the best it could be.

Baskets were designed and donated with Connor’s interests and destinations in mind. An Italian, French, and Spanish cuisine basket were among the many donations, along with a snorkeling kit, art supply kit, and digital camera.

Photo by Samantha Reposa

Photo by Samantha Reposa

After the mock cruise, the UNH football game kicked off and ended with Connor scoring the winning touchdown. A tunnel of football players bid Connor farewell and escorted him to his last surprise of the day: a Cappetta’s food truck, run by co-owner Donato Cappetta, where Connor baked his own pizza from scratch.

Photo by Samantha Reposa

Photo by Samantha Reposa

According to Connor’s mom, Damara O’Neill, Connor loves watching Food Network, cooking, and eating. One of the reasons Connor wanted to go to the Mediterranean was to eat real Italian cuisine. In fact, during their short time in Rome before the ship departs, the O’Neill family plans to visit an olive oil estate and learn how to make their own pizza from scratch, something that Connor will now have experience with.

“I’m just speechless…I mean the kindness of every person today from when we pulled into the parking lot this morning is unbelievable. I mean, everybody here is just fantastic, you know, high-fiving him, talking to us, everyone seems like genuinely kind people who really care…and seeing him so happy makes me happy,” Damara O’Neill said.

Photo by Samantha Reposa

Photo by Samantha Reposa

 

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All The World’s a Stage…

Upon stepping into Bucknall Theater for the University of New Haven Theater Department’s production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which ran from April 21-23, one almost wonders if they are in the right place. From setting Shakespeare lyrics to modern melodies, such as that of “Jolene,” brightly colored set pieces, the comedy hardly felt like it was written centuries ago by William Shakespeare, who would have celebrated his 400th birthday Saturday.

Duke Senior’s court prepares to defend the Forest of Arden in a scene of As You Like It  (Photo by Cassie Washington)

Duke Senior’s court prepares to defend the Forest of Arden in a scene of As You Like It
(Photo by Cassie Washington)

Set in France, the play tells the story of Rosalind (played by Rose-Emma Lambridis), the daughter of the exiled Duke Senior (played by Jazmin Jeanbaptiste) and her romance with Orlando (played by Greg Pease), who has left his home due to the malicious treatment at the hands of his brother, Oliver (played by Michael Kennedy). Soon, Rosalind is, too, exiled, like her father, by her uncle, Duke Frederick (played by Amanda Sigan), causing Rosalind to flee to the Forest of Arden with her best friend and Frederick’s daughter, Celia (played by Katie McGoff), and the court jester, Touchstone (played by Leann Boisvert).    There, Rosalind disguises herself as a man, “Ganymede,” while Celia disguises herself as a poor woman, “Aliena,” while Duke Senior and his followers serve as a band of singing and dancing do-gooders in the forest whilst advising Orlando and Oliver’s melancholy brother, Jaques (played by Joshua Dill). Throw in a few cases of mistaken identity and plenty of bawdy humor, and you have a solid evening of entertainment.

Director and UNH Theater Department head Jessica Brater, along with her assistant director, sophomore Angelina Meccariello, spearheaded acompletely out-of-the-box rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, proving that the bard’s words and stories are not only still relevant to today’s audience, but also easy to customize them in a variety of ways. From two-dimensional cardboard costumes (designed by Karen Boyer, whose creative prowess was previously seen in productions like School for Wives and Psycho Beach Party), to the three dimensional forest of Arden brought to life by Theater Program set designer Carolyn Mraz, the entire cast and crew created not just a story, but an entire world that simply enveloped the audience. These elements helped not only modernize the age-old story, but also helped both the audience and the actors better comprehend Shakespeare’s words.

“We played around a lot with the physicality of each person, and being consistent with it throughout the show, which was a challenge but ultimately helped when dealing with Shakespeare’s language,” said sophomore Erica Quadvlieg, who played “Phoebe” in the production.

“The process of performing Shakespeare is different from the process of any other play. There is such a heavy focus on the language. But that’s very important, because Shakespeare is essentially a different language. As difficult as it was, all the work was worth it once we performed the play for an audience. Even though Shakespeare can be hard to follow, the audiences have really seemed to enjoy what we’ve put on the stage,” Kennedy agreed.

And it wasn’t just the audience who enjoyed themselves; the entire production incorporated the talents of not only the student actors and crew members, in addition to Brater, but also students and even University faculty and staff, allowing the play to fully be a fun community affair. Dr. Margaret Savilonis’ Dramaturgy class helped Savilonis, who served as the dramaturg of the show, advised the actors on the production. During the production itself, a different faculty member of the University, including Dean Lourdes Alvarez, Marty O’Connor, Jason Degroff, and even President Stephen Kaplan donned a ceremonial flower crown and served as impromptu wedding officiants in the final marriage scene of the play for each show

“It was privilege to be a very, very small part in such an extraordinary production,” said O’Connor. “Our students and our faculty have done the University proud. The Bard himself would be pleased with this production.”

Both faculty and students were thoroughly impressed with the performance. “It was good to see the play put on in a way that was new and different, without seeming as though it was trying too hard,” said senior Michael Quick.

Thanks to the hard work and impeccable talent both the students and faculty members who brought this production to life, this performance of As You Like It was certainly not one to be missed; chances are, Shakespeare was probably rolling in his grave for having missed it himself.

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