Below is the transcript of Will Marquess’s introduction at the award ceremony. The John Reiss Award in English is given each spring by the Honorable Judge Christina Reiss in memory of her father. It goes to a graduating senior English major who has best demonstrated the qualities of John Reiss, a long-time central member of the department, who died tragically in 2008.
Thanks for being here to celebrate the John Reiss Award in English for 2017. It’s good to be here in the Reiss Room, with many of John’s books on the shelves and paintings donated in his honor by the artists. In a moment, we’ll hear from the benefactor, the Honorable Christina Reiss. First, I’d like to say some things about two people: John Reiss and Danny Divis.
John Reiss taught English at Saint Michael’s for thirty-four years, introducing students to an eclectic range of writers, from John Ruskin and Stephen Crane to Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, and Joan Didion. John was smart, funny, modest, and gracious. He believed that art can show us how to pay attention, both to the world and to ourselves. The title of the collection of essays he was working on when he died almost nine years ago was Paying Attention.
Daniel Divis is a senior English major with a minor in Business, from Media, PA. He has a nearly perfect GPA, and was recently inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He’s a coach in our Writing Center (founded when John was chair in the 1970s) and, according to WC Director Tim Mackin, an excellent one. Danny is also a varsity hockey player, and has distinguished himself by helping found an organization called Hope Happens Here, which works to raise awareness about mental health issues. Dan has been admitted to law school but is hoping to delay that at least a year so that he can play professional hockey.
He is currently working on a senior thesis with Christina Root, and I want to quote her on that:
He is writing on money in Portrait of a Lady and Middlemarch, using Foucault’s idea of a carceral system that permeates . . . all aspects of life. It sounds a little bleak, but he uses the centrality of money to explore not only how free the characters are to make moral choices, but to show how the language of money seeps into everything…. The thesis reveals his own generous, moral and kind nature. He even shows how the characters rise above and escape out of the system that Foucault thinks is absolute.
Because of the many ways in which he exemplifies the qualities of John Reisse, I am pleased to present Danny Divis with the 2017 John Reiss Award in English.