Notre Dame College Associate Professor of Communication, English and Theatre Anthony “Tony” Zupancic has collected stacks of books, magazines and student papers as a result of his lifelong curiosity for arts, literature and education—and his passion for making connections with people.
The piles surround him, on and around his desk, in his office on the fourth floor of the Administration Building. Zupancic said he has saved all of these because each is a potential talking point. And he does not want to miss a single moment that can be shared with others by communicating.
“It’s totally amazing when anybody really shares and really communicates,” said Zupancic. “The time when we get goose bumps, we think we really understand what people think. Those are the moments that people write poems about.”
He said his personal and professional mission during his more than 33 years teaching at Notre Dame has been to share many of these “beautiful” moments with his students and colleagues as an educator, a mentor and a friend.
Zupancic is officially retiring at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.
While Zupancic will no longer work full time at Notre Dame, he said he still plans to continue on campus as an adjunct instructor for as long as the College will have him.
“How could I not be in the moment at Notre Dame?” said Zupancic. “I have met people who can be in the moment, who are truly forgiving and generous and kind, so why the hell would I move on?”
Just as his teaching title covers the continuum of English, communication and theatre, Zupancic is interested in a variety of subjects, such as poetry, philosophy, mass media, politics, communication and all liberal arts.
Yet he said his biggest delight is simply as an educator.
“I never intended to be a teacher, and I just got hooked on it. It’s a fabulous job. It’s very painful at times; it’s very exhilarating at times,” he said, alluding to author Charles Dickens’ famous line from the novel A Tale of Two Cities, a copy of which may be somewhere in the mess around the desk of his office.
Zupancic’s career in education ranges from working at a Cleveland inner city high school to a teaching fellowship at Kent State University. But Notre Dame College became the site of his long-term employment because he said here he has felt needed, not just to impart knowledge but to inspire students.
He said at Notre Dame he has been able to make a difference by helping others who may not have had the opportunity to attend other schools. And he not only helps these underserved students receive a quality education and become professionals in the fields they choose, but also aids them in becoming globally responsible citizens who will exercise their own curiosity to achieve excellence and reach their full potential.
“I thought that if there is some way I can help people feel more confident, I should teach,” he said.
According to Zupancic, the joy of being an educator is connecting with students in a two-way learning process.
“There are lots of possible moments, and I’ve learned a lot in classes I taught,” said Zupancic. “I discovered some of the most beautiful students I’ve ever had, and I’m still fondly recalling some of them.”
While at Notre Dame, Zupancic has taught almost every class in communication at some point—and has met most of the students who have attended the College over the past three decades in class at some time or another.
The one course he teaches every semester: CA100: Elements of Speech. Zupancic said he finds this basic public speaking course extremely important to all students, not just communication majors. Public speaking is not only a skill essential for a successful career but also one of the best ways to connect with people and to share in the unique moments Zupancic treasures so much.
“Public speaking is a real hurdle that a lot of ‘froshlings’ have to learn to jump in order to keep going through all the rest of their courses,” he said, with his signature twist on the English language. “Communication is a lot more complex than people think, especially public speaking.”
His colleagues concur, not just with the value of teaching public speaking but with the passion Zupancic shares in all his classes.
“He has a passion for his discipline that makes his courses among the most rewarding and memorable classes that students take at the college,” said Kenneth Palko, associate professor of philosophy at Notre Dame.
Zupancic also builds connections outside of the classroom with his students, other faculty and staff at the College─connections that aren’t just memorable moments but those that endure for decades.
As an academic advisor, Zupancic helps nearly 60 students every year not only with scheduling classes but also with defining their career paths and cultivating their job interview presentation skills.
And he stays in touch with his students long after graduation.
Tina Jurcisin said that Zupancic has been a source of inspiration for her ever since they met in 1981, when she was his student. Zupancic pushed her to the limit to become successful in her courses, and he was always there when she needed him for mentoring or career advice.
“Not only has Tony taught me the basics of communication theories and theatre techniques, he taught me how to be a person who truly has passion, passion for my life and career,” said Jurcisin, who is now administrative coordinator of Notre Dame’s Office for Professional Development, as well as president of the College’s Alumni Association.
And he has inspired her to become an adjunct instructor at the College as well. She now teaches several courses in the communication department.
“Over the years, I have seen Tony truly give his talents to every student that has walked in his door,” said Jurcisin. “Tony has a heart of gold. His kindness towards students and the generosity of his talents are overwhelming.”
Zupancic’s colleagues view him as an individual who not only fulfills the duties of a college professor but also serves as a friend to them and to the College. He is often seen on campus, all hours at extracurricular and alumni events.
“Zupancic doesn't teach or preach the Notre Dame College mission, he lives the mission,” said Palko. “He is an example of living an excellent life, what the ancient Greeks call arête. It inspires us all.”
For Zupancic, all the things he does in and outside class─from volunteering to train commencement speakers to serving as master of ceremonies for the annual faculty and staff softball game to having a cup of coffee with colleagues at the Falcon Café─are ways to stay in the moment and to be able to share it with others.
He also creates connections with his perennial involvement in College theatre productions. From completing the preparation to celebrating the performance, he said every show he has participated in “has created another family for me.”
According to Zupancic, during each stage show, actors communicate with their audience as well as communicate with each other as far as delivering their lines. But more importantly, they create connections and really get to know each other while they are putting the show together.
However, according to Zupancic, there is a difference between being in the spotlight and sharing a moment with others.
“I don’t like to be in the spotlight that much, but I like to be in the moment,” he said. “People don’t believe, but I’m really kind of a shy person.”
Shy or not, every year Zupancic presents an oral interpretation at the College’s annual holiday celebration and Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.
“Most folks are afraid of getting out in front of the group, but as long as I’m prepared, I’m not afraid. I really like to help people to celebrate important things,” he said.
Zupancic also said he enjoyed helping Notre Dame celebrate its 90-year anniversary.
“When we think of Notre Dame College, we must also think of Tony Z. He has helped define the College for decades,” Palko said. “Ultimately, a college is not defined by its buildings or campus, but rather its people.”
And Zupancic has taught and lived the College’s liberal arts mission on campus for more than a third of the College’s history, as evidenced by all his varied interests, accomplishments and the piles of papers in his office.
“I hope that in the future, students of Notre Dame will begin to discover the joys and the benefits of doing a number of very different things,” Zupancic said. “The more diverse we are in our interests and our activities, the more likely we are to have some really great moments, being in the moment. And each informs the other.”