Loyola University Chicago

School of Education

2010 Award Citation

Higher Education Program Distinguished Alumnus/a Award

Presentation Remarks Made By
Jennifer Grant Haworth, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Annual Convention
Chicago, Illinois
March 8, 2010 


For Celebration

Now is the time to free the heart,
Let all intentions and worries stop,
Free the joy inside the self,
Awaken to the wonder of your life.

Open your eyes and see the friends
Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,
Those whose kindness watchful and near,
Encourages you to live everything here.

See the gifts the years have given,
Things your effort could never earn,
The health to enjoy who you want to be
And the mind to mirror mystery.

                                                                ~John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

This evening I am honored and delighted to present the 2010 Loyola University Chicago Higher Education Distinguished Alumnus Award to our colleague and my friend, Dr. J. Michael Durnil.

In 1995, Michael came to my office for counsel.  He had what he believed was an intriguing dissertation idea, but his last dissertation chair had recently left the university and he was hoping to continue his work with someone who was friendly toward qualitative research – something that was a far more pronounced challenge back then than what it is now.  I sat and listened to his idea, encouraged him to follow his passion, and agreed to chair his committee.  About 18 months later Michael defended his dissertation, More than red ribbons: Student affairs professionals who advocate for HIV/AIDS issues in higher education, in the dean’s conference room at Loyola’s old Mallinckrodt campus in Wilmette, Illinois.  I’m sure Michael remembers that day well; I most certainly do.  At the conclusion of his defense – and after congratulatory hugs and slaps on the back were exchanged – I invited Michael to have a seat.  Michael had no idea that on that day in 1997 he and I initiated a new rite of passage in our Ph.D. program – something that I affectionately refer to as the post-defense “love feast.”  In this liminal time and space, dissertation committee members offer words of praise and reflections of note to their newest doctoral colleague.  Usually, the newly-minted Ph.D. leaves teary-eyed or rose-cheeked, touched by an embarrassment of rich – but always much deserved – praise and blessings.

Fifteen years have passed since Michael’s last Loyola “love feast.”  Thankfully, I – along with all of you – have been gifted with the opportunity to share yet another liminal moment as Michael receives our Distinguished Alumnus Award this evening. I’d like to sketch for you a brief portrait of the man and his many contributions to the varied communities of which he has been a part.                        

Michael grew up in Decatur, Illinois, the son of a sheet metal worker and the “best room mom ever.”   A first generation college student, Michael considered becoming an actor or a medical illustrator, but eventually settled on a major in Biology.  During his years at Illinois State University, Michael caught the “student affairs bug,” working as a campus orientation guide, serving as the student chair of the Illinois Residence Hall Association annual conference in 1983, and leading his graduating class as student government president.  Michael also apparently did a very short stint as ISU’s mascot “Reggie Redbird” – now that would have been a sight to see!  Not surprisingly, Michael entered the master’s program in higher education at ISU immediately upon graduation and financed his studies by working as a Graduate Hall Director.  After a short detour to Texas, where he served as the Assistant Director of Residence Life at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Michael found his way back home, accepting an Assistant Dean of Students position at Elmhurst College.  For the next eight years, Michael oversaw the daily operation of the college’s residence halls, student union, conference services, and recreational facilities. He also began to act on an emerging passion of his: HIV/AIDS education, serving on a task force to develop a national model for HIV/AIDS peer facilitators.  In 1993, Michael joined Roosevelt University and, for the next 15 years, gifted Roosevelt with his extraordinary leadership abilities as their Dean of Students, Assistant Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Associate Vice President for Student Services, Campus Executive Officer of the university’s 3,200 student Schaumburg campus, Vice President for Administration, Vice President for Government Relations and Outreach, and Assistant Secretary to its Board of Trustees.  In the latter three roles, Michael oversaw the overall direction and operation of the Office of the President, coordinated the activities of the university’s 80-member Board of Trustees, and provided overall leadership to Roosevelt’s governmental and external relations efforts. While his accomplishments are too numerous to mention here, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Michael’s visionary leadership and hard work attracted more than $8 million in external funding from private and public sources to Roosevelt and also led to the creation of an innovative globally-focused lecture series with members of the Diplomatic Corps of the United Nations.

Currently, Michael serves as the Senior Vice President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, also known as GLAAD.  In this executive leadership position, Michael provides strategic guidance, direction and implementation oversight to advance, grow and expand GLAAD’s presence as a national media advocacy and anti-defamation organization.

Clearly, Michael Durnil is an accomplished administrative leader.  But what makes Michael so special is his passion for service – both to our profession and to his local community.   Michael has served on national and regional boards and committees in a variety of higher education and community associations, including the American Council on Education, the Association of Governing Boards, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and his beloved Chicago Area Small College Housing Association.  He has been a member of many municipal and civic boards, including being an inaugural Commissioner for the Arts in Arlington Heights, Illinois and as Commissioner for the Schaumburg Development Commission.  In 2006, Michael was Roosevelt University’s institutional representative for Gay Games VII here in Chicago – an event that attracted over 14,000 participants from all over the world. Through his coordination of the University’s involvement with and sponsorship of the festival, the University garnered international recognition and accolades, including membership on the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee.

A strong advocate for social justice and human rights, Michael has volunteered with organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Human Rights Campaign and the Illinois Ethnic Coalition.  Michael’s commitments to social justice spring, in part, from his own faith commitments as an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA.

I’m sure that all of you would agree with me that Michael is a gifted and highly accomplished administrative leader.  His contributions to our field and the many communities of which he has been a part are extraordinary.  That said, if you really know Michael, you also know that as I’ve been recounting his many accomplishments, he’s been murmuring to himself, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re saying that!  I remember that!  We had a hysterical time!”  You see, “the work” for Michael has never really ever been about “getting the job done”; rather, it’s been about relationships, and enjoying and valuing the gifts that others have to give when people choose to join together to achieve common goals.

Because of this, I chose to contact about a dozen of Michael’s colleagues from years gone by to offer a few words about Michael – as leader, colleague, mentor, and friend. Their words will tell the story behind the face of Michael Durnil as a person and a leader.  [Invite colleagues on stage]  Michael, as you listen to what your colleagues have to say about you, I’d like to remind you, in the words of Irish poet John O’Donohue, to:

Open your eyes and see the friends
Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,
Those whose kindness watchful and near,
Encourages you to live everything here.
See the gifts the years have given..

I’d like to begin by inviting Ellen Meents-Decaigny, a 2008 PhD graduate of our higher education program to offer a few words.  Ellen worked with Michael when he was Dean of Students at Roosevelt. 

[Ellen] I learned many lessons from Michael.  I’d like to share a few of them with you and also a story that, I think, captures the spirit of the Michael Durnil I know and love.

First, lessons,

  •  When presenting a problem to your supervisor, always provide a couple of ways that it can be resolved
  • When supervising others, always provide professional development opportunities that will help propel them to the next level, and when they are ready to move on to the next professional position, do all you can to help them get there

One example - After attending a meeting at the Chicago Cultural Center with Michael we were walking down the sidewalk talking to a colleague from DePaul.  The DePaul colleague mentioned he had a position opening and Michael, knowing I was considering a job search, encouraged me to pull out my resume and hand it to him right there on the sidewalk.  Thankfully Michael had encouraged me to keep my updated resume in my portfolio in case this type of opportunity presented itself.  And 12 years later, I can't thank him enough for helping me become part of the DePaul family.

[Ellen] I have to tell you one more story that is classic JMD – and, for this one, he received an assist from Tanya.

When I was closing on my first home I forgot to bring my driver’s license with me (who knew they would want to verify I was the person signing for the mortgage).  I called Michael back in the office and he said he would send a student staff member over in a taxi to deliver my wallet.  Shortly after, the taxi arrived and the wallet was delivered.  When I pulled out my license I was mortified and confused when I saw Michaels license in my wallet.  Actually, it was Michael's picture, in the shape of the state of Illinois, on my license.  He and Tanya, in five minutes or less, had decided to use the ID picture machine to alter my license . . . and then they tried to deny it. :)

Thank you, Michael, for all of this and more.  You have been a wonderful mentor and colleague to me, and we feel privileged to call you our friend.

Peggy, perhaps you’d like to add your congratulations?  Peggy Burke is a 2005 graduate of Loyola’s PhD program and is the Associate VP for Student Affairs at DePaul University:

[Peggy] I entered Loyola as a part-time, at large student without a cohort of other doctoral students.  I learned quickly that one of the leading names in our profession in Chicago was also a Loyola doctoral student [named] Michael Durnil. . . . From the beginning, it was Michael's warmth and camaraderie in the Loyola experience that opened the door for our connection.  Over the years, we established a strong connection as professional colleagues at Roosevelt and DePaul; this was especially evident when I "stole" Ellen Meents-DeCaigny from Roosevelt.  I cannot believe he ever forgave me for that one!..  In 2006, I had the great opportunity to teach a course on administrative leadership at Loyola.  When thinking about guest speakers, Michael Durnil was first on my list  [and it turned out, not surprisingly, that] the students felt Michael's visit was a highlight of the semester.

I am so happy that the Loyola higher education program is recognizing Michael Durnil this year.  He represents what Loyola taught us - values-based, intelligent and thoughtful leadership that contributes to the betterment of our society through education, advocacy and service. Congratulations and thank you Michael!

Doug, how about a few words from you?  Doug is the Dean of Students at IIT and has known Michael for almost 20 years. At the end of this month, Doug will be defending his doctoral dissertation and having his own love feast.

I will never forget the first CASCHA (Chicago Area Small College Housing Association) meeting I attended at Elmhurst College (fall, 1993).  Michael worked there at the time.  When I was networking to move to the Chicagoland area, Michael was one of those people who took the personal time to contact me about jobs he had heard of.  When I went to the meeting, he greeted me warmly and I really felt at home in Chicago!  Over the years, he is one of the first people I turn to for advice about my professional career.  I always know he will give me a direct, honest answer.  Even though he had just moved to Los Angeles and was under a lot of pressure in his new job, when I called him to ask if he would serve on my dissertation committee, his response consisted of four simple words:  "I would be honored."  Michael has been a professional coach, mentor, and good friend to me.  I am grateful to him for it all.


I am incredibly honored and proud to present our 2010 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Michael Durnil.  Michael, you have been a positive force for meaningful change in the life of several institutions and communities, and have left an indelible impression on the hearts and minds of countless students and colleagues.  On behalf of my higher education faculty colleagues, our Dean, David Prasse, and the students and alumni of our higher education master’s and doctoral programs, I want to thank you, Michael, for all that you do for our field and, perhaps more importantly, for all that you ARE.  We offer our heartfelt congratulations not only to you, but to those whose emotional support has helped to make your many contributions possible: your late parents, D. Dean and Patricia Durnil – and, believe it, Michael, when I say your dad has a huge smile on his face right now, right under that Shriners’ cap he’s wearing; your beloved partner of 10 years, Stephen Smoot; and your college-aged children, Lauren and J. Andrew.  We are so very proud of you, Michael.