Scholarship Funds Enhance University

Scholarship Funds Enhance University

A star of stage and screen makes a happy return to the campus

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

He's traipsed around New York City with Al Pacino, romanced Minnie Driver in the Irish countryside and donned a rubberized body suit to fight crime with George Clooney.

But for Chris O'Donnell '92, star of such movies as "Scent of a Woman," "Circle of Friends" and "Batman and Robin," one of his more eagerly anticipated encounters took place last month with a Boston College undergraduate who has little or no aspirations for stage and screen.

During his recent visit to campus, Chris O'Donnell '92 had a chance to finally meet junior Michael DiMattina, the inaugural recipient of a scholarship established by the actor. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
On April 26, O'Donnell lunched with Michael DiMattina '04, the inaugural recipient of a BC scholarship O'Donnell endowed five years ago. It was the first-ever meeting between the two, who for all their obvious differences share a deep affection for their hometown Chicago - and a strong appreciation for Jesuit and Catholic education.

Established by O'Donnell in honor of his mother Julia, the O'Donnell Fund at Boston College provides financial aid for qualified undergraduates from the Chicago area, with preference for needy students from Loyola Academy of Wilmette, Ill., the high school he and DiMattina attended.

"I loved going to BC, and the future looks so bright for the school," said O'Donnell, interviewed during a campus visit the day before his luncheon with DiMattina. "Starting this scholarship seemed the best way to give back to my alma mater, which did so much for me, and to also keep a connection to where I grew up."

As he looked ahead to the prospect of meeting his namesake scholar, O'Donnell said, "I think it'll be fun. I can't wait to meet him."

Not surprisingly, the feeling was mutual for DiMattina, a history major with a minor in secondary education who also has studied in the Faith, Peace and Justice Program. The son of a 1970 alumnus, DiMattina graduated with honors from Loyola, where he played on the varsity ice hockey team and was a two-year participant in the school's summer community service project in Tijuana, Mexico.

Although he received notice of the scholarship as a senior at Loyola, it was not until his first semester at BC that he found out the identity of his benefactor.

"I got this letter which explained that Chris had started the scholarship fund, and I was the very first one chosen," he recalled last week. "It was pretty exciting. I started telling everyone I could find.

"In the back of my mind, I kept wondering, 'Gee, I wonder if I'll ever get a chance to meet him.' Then, earlier this year, I got an e-mail from the Development Office saying that Chris was planning to be on campus in April and perhaps we could get together."

O'Donnell, who came east from his California home to accept an alumni award for artistic achievement - an event held as part of this year's BC Arts Festival - arranged to meet DiMattina at Robsham Theater and the two set off in O'Donnell's rental car for Cityside Restaurant in Cleveland Circle. "I thought we were going to eat in Lower Campus," said DiMattina, "but Chris said he couldn't come to Boston without eating at Cityside."

O'Donnell and DiMattina found the restaurant almost empty, and settled in for more than an hour of conversation, trading reminiscences of home, school and college, and - prompted by coverage of the National Football League draft on the restaurant TV - speculating on the outlook for the Bears, Cubs and other Chicago sports teams.

"Chris is really easy-going and down to earth," said DiMattina. "We were sitting side by side, watching the NFL draft and talking, and it was like sitting with a friend - it's just that, you'd turn your head, and there's Chris O'Donnell."

There were no great words of wisdom on life or career from O'Donnell - other than suggestions for summer caddying jobs at Chicago-area golf courses - but DiMattina says he didn't expect any.

Chris O'Donnell speaks with students after his Arts Festival appearance.
"This was just very casual and friendly. One thing I did take away from the conversation was the idea of keeping your options open. Chris told me that Saturday was about the first time he'd ever stepped into Robsham Theater. He came here to study business, after all, and his first acting opportunities were outside of BC. Yet even once he'd gotten into acting, he became involved in starting a production company.

"Although I decided on history as my major in my freshman year, the service work I've done, both at Loyola and while I've been here, made me think about teaching," continued DiMattina, who worked as a student teacher at Quincy High School this semester. "So, as I go along, I'm looking for the right opportunities that will help me use my talents and skills and also grow as a person.

"Fortunately, BC is the kind of place where you can find those chances, and that's why I'm so glad I came here."

O'Donnell echoed his fellow Loyola Academy grad's comments while on his campus the previous day, during which he appeared at the Arts Festival for a Q-and-A session with students modeled after Bravo's "Inside the Actors' Studio."

Hailing a former professor as he strolled down Linden Lane, or joking with a reporter from The Heights during an interview in the Burns Library, O'Donnell, whose sister is a 1983 alumna, seemed to relish being back on once-familiar turf. He rattled off memories - those that were not "unprintable," he quipped - of his freshman year on Newton Campus, and found he could still recite the phone number for a favorite chicken take-out service.

But O'Donnell turned serious when he discussed his decision to continue pursuing his degree in marketing even as he began to land plum film roles. "I just didn't want to give up on my education. It's the way I was raised, that your life didn't truly begin until after college.

"This was a great place to be. I had some terrific teachers, and I have friends from BC all over the country. That's no small thing, because in the film business people tend to move on. I like knowing I still have these bonds."


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