Community values


“How can you not be a fan, with his charm?” asked one student. He was talking about third-year Tyler Zoanni, smiling and chatting with audience members before his talk in the bimonthly “What Matters to Me and Why” series. The series, sponsored by Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, encourages active members of the University community to reflect on their values and motivations. Zoanni, peer minister of Lutheran Campus Ministry, cochair of Interfaith Dialogue, and a member of his dorm (Wick House) council, was surrounded by friends and fans during Thursday afternoon’s brown-bag discussion in the chapel’s Interreligious Center as he spoke about finding meaning through the communities in his life.

“What matters to me,” Zoanni said, is a “surprisingly tough” question that people rarely think about. His father, he joked, suggested that “family, friends, happiness, health, and respecting your father” are what really matter, but Zoanni decided to focus on principles: community, decency, and honesty. People “strive to live lives that have meaning,” he explained, and they have a set of commitments by which they live. He has found a source of meaning in communities. After his mother was injured in a car accident and then diagnosed with cancer—Zoanni was in kindergarten—he spent a lot of time with neighbors in his small Montana town: “Without that, I wouldn’t have made it.” The broader importance of community, he said, is that “people who don’t know each other still care about each other.” For Zoanni, Wick House and the Lutheran Campus Ministry have provided food, friends, and an escape from the “rages of the academic world.”

Through the student organization Interfaith Dialogue, a group that brings together people from different religious backgrounds, Zoanni works toward creating “a community of communities” at the University. He suggests rethinking the partisan model, where a person espouses strong beliefs while “casting aside” others who may disagree; rather, a community should be a place for openness and vulnerability. It is valuable, Zoanni concluded, to remember how small one is in the grand scheme, and that listening to other people’s convictions can help a person “figure things out” in a messy, complicated world.

Ruthie Kott

Photo: In Rockefeller's basement, Zoanni tells friends and fans about community.

November 10, 2006