Red Fox Spotlight: Dylan O’Brien ’20
What brought you to Marist originally? Why did you choose it?
Marist is a place where people will hold the door for you, even if they don’t know who you are. That’s just the type of person that comes here, and it creates a welcoming environment that makes Marist feel immediately like home. You can sense it from the moment you step on campus, and I saw it from my very first visit. Marist is a community of passionate students who love what they do. Not only are they passionate about what they do, they also love to hear what other students are passionate about. Passion inspires passion, creating an incredibly inspiring atmosphere on campus.
I visited Marist four times before I chose it. I was torn between many schools for a variety of reasons. But when I attended Accepted Students Weekend, that all changed. At the end of the day, I attended the music information session. I had already met [Director of Choral Activities] Sarah Williams at my music scholarship audition, and when I spoke to her at the end of the session, she remembered that I was interested in a cappella. Time Check (Marist’s male a cappella group) happened to be holding a rehearsal in the room next door and she had me sit in on it. Little did I know that I was about to meet some of the people who would become my best friends at Marist. I met a group of guys who loved to make music. It wasn’t stressful or cutthroat – it was just fun. Leaving home for college can be very stressful, but knowing there is a place you will belong helps make it easier. I walked out of the room and knew that I had to come to Marist and be part of the group. And now, I am.
Describe your Marist experience, both academics and extracurricular activities.
Some of my best academic experiences at Marist have come from the fieldwork associated with my courses. As an education student, I have learned the most from my time in real classrooms. The emphasis on fieldwork makes Marist’s education program special. Rather than learning everything on campus, you are able to see the real application of your coursework throughout your college experience. All of this culminated in the fall of my senior year with my student teaching. I was placed at Violet Avenue Elementary School in Hyde Park in a co-taught 5th grade classroom, meaning that my placement for general and special education were in the same classroom. Student teaching helped me feel confident that teaching is in fact my calling. I loved waking up every morning and going to the school, and I loved working with the students and collaborating with the other teachers. As I put on my tie each morning, my confidence grew because I knew I could make a difference in my students’ lives.
One of my favorite extracurricular activities is Time Check: Marist’s only all-male a cappella group. I have been in the group since my freshman year. A cappella has been a passion of mine since high school, where I participated in a co-ed group, and I knew I wanted to continue it in college. This year, I have the privilege of serving as the musical director of the group. It has been incredibly rewarding to give back to the group and help us realize our full potential. My motto for the group this year is “Have Fun Being Awesome.” Basically, we should love what we do because what we do is awesome. If we can be remembered as the group that made incredible music and had fun doing it, I will be truly content.
O’Brien (bottom left) singing as part of Time Check, Marist’s only all-male a cappella group
In addition to Time Check, I am also a member of the Marist College Singers and Chamber Choir. These groups have not only provided me with a space to pursue my love of choral music, but they’ve also helped me grow tremendously as a leader. I served on the Executive Board of the Singers for two years and have served as a section leader in Chamber Choir for two years. Through these experiences, I have learned how to communicate with my peers confidently and respectfully. These groups have also provided me with unforgettable opportunities to perform around the country and the world. I have performed at Carnegie Hall twice, traveled to Austria, and will be traveling to Norway this summer.
I’ve also managed to balance two jobs on top of my academics and extracurricular activities. I have been a tour guide since my sophomore year, and I love it because I get to give prospective students an inside look at Marist. In addition to the facts and figures, I always fill my tour with personal stories about each stop on campus. I love sharing my passion for our school. I have also been student worker in the Music Department since my junior year. At this job, I help to organize office activities, answer questions from prospective students, and work closely with faculty. I love going to work at both of my jobs, where I am surrounded by passionate students and faculty that push me to be better.
Are there specific faculty members who have had an especially positive impact on you?
There are so many faculty members on campus who have had an impact on me. Marist professors love working with their students, and they love seeing a student’s passions come alive in their work. I am so grateful for all the faculty who have had an impact on my time at Marist, but there are two professors in particular who stand out.
Sarah Williams, Director of Choral Activities, has been inspirational since I met her as a high school senior. Sarah is a breathtaking conductor and an inspiring teacher. I have worked with her in the Singers, Chamber Choir, the Vocal Skills course, and Private Vocal Studio. Additionally, she will be my faculty advisor for my Honors Thesis project this semester. We will be exploring non-verbal communication between a choral conductor and a choir. I will be working with a small choir throughout the semester and putting on a concert for the Marist community. Not only has Sarah pushed me to be a better singer, but she has pushed me to be a better person. Sarah always says, “See a need, fill a need” which means that when you see someone in need of help, you stop everything and you help them. As a future teacher, I am so grateful to have a role model like Sarah.
Dr. Kari Morrison, Coordinator of Clinical Teacher Preparation, has also been extremely important in my preparation to become a teacher. Dr. Morrison taught our educational psychology seminar, which focused on preparation for student teaching and edTPA (an assessment and support system in teacher training programs). She helped us feel confident that we were prepared to take the leap into student teaching and was also my supervisor during student teaching. I never felt nervous when she came for observations because I knew that her comments would always be constructive and would help me become a better teacher. Dr. Morrison has also attended many of my concerts with the Marist Singers and Time Check. She took the time to learn what I am passionate about and has supported it.
As an education major, you were involved in the “Prepared to Teach” teacher training program. What school did they place you in and how was that experience beneficial?
I participated in the Prepared to Teach program in spring 2019, and I was placed at the Salt Point Educational Center for my fieldwork. I took two courses as part of the program.
My first course was Curriculum Strategies for Students with Disabilities, which focused on best practices for modifying all aspects of the curriculum for students with disabilities. I was placed in a kindergarten/first grade 6:1:2 classroom. The classroom was part of the PEACCE program, which stands for Providing Education for Autistic and Communication-Impaired Children Effectively. I completed 20 hours of fieldwork focused on creating modified lessons for students on the autism spectrum.
O’Brien (far left) at a Prepared to Teach event
My second course was Assessment and Remediation of Reading and Writing, which is the third course in our literacy sequence. I was placed in a 5th/6th grade special education classroom. I completed over 60 hours of fieldwork spending full days in the classroom. As part of the fieldwork, I tutored a student one-on-one with a focus on reading interventions, creating a comprehensive tutoring plan and assessing the student’s growth throughout the semester.
One of the most valuable parts of this experience was the seamless transition between our course and the classrooms in which we were placed. We would learn about a teaching method in our lecture and then we could go down the hall and see it in action right away in a real classroom. I have always learned so much from my field placements, but this program streamlined the process extremely well.
You went to Austria in 2018 to participate in World Choral Fest. What was that like?
I never thought I would study abroad. It was actually never even on my radar, but that all changed in summer 2018 when I had to opportunity to travel with the Marist Singers to Austria for World Choral Fest, held in Salzburg. During the final performance, we sang a commissioned piece entitled “Non Nobis, Domine,” and we were the first choir in the entire world to sing it. My memory is so vivid. I remember how it felt to sing every lyric and how it felt to watch the conductor make every movement. And I remember how it felt to listen to our sound echo in the Salzburg Cathedral for seven seconds. In that moment, nothing else mattered but the music. Nothing in the world.
As we filed off the stage, tears welled in my eyes. I stepped out of line, ran to my parents, and nearly tackled my dad to the ground. I couldn’t find the words to express how thankful I was. My parents have tried to come to every single concert, small or large, since I was eight years old. Not only did they help me pay for the trip, they traveled halfway around the world to hear me sing in person. When we were asked to leave the cathedral, I didn’t want to let go of that moment.
Vienna, Austria - O’Brien (top row, second from left) and the Marist Singers pose in front of the High Altar in St. Stephen's Cathedral after their performance in 2018.
I’m someone who suppresses my emotions because I feel uncomfortable being so vulnerable. But music is one of the few parts of my life in which I can break down that barrier. World Choral Fest was one of the only times I have ever fully let my guard down and express myself completely freely. Ever since that moment, I have tried to never take a moment of music for granted. I have been so fortunate to have music be a part of my everyday life here at Marist. I cannot imagine life without it.
This summer, I’ll again have the opportunity to attend World Choral Fest, this time in Norway. It will be the final stop on an incredible musical journey here at Marist. I am looking forward to creating powerful music that we will share with the entire world.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan to pursue a teaching position. Throughout my time at Marist, I have been pursuing New York State dual certification in elementary and special education. Upon my graduation in May, I hope to be fully certified and searching for a job in New York. I also plan to pursue a master’s degree. I want to spend time in a classroom first, though, because I believe it will help me discover what I am most passionate about in education. A few areas I am considering focusing on are a master’s in math education, a master’s in reading and literacy, or a master’s in special education. However, I am open to learning about new programs and could end up pursuing a different type of master’s degree in another field of education.
Regardless of the specific program, I have learned that education is the right field for me. I love helping students learn and grow. It is a lifelong journey in which I will also learn and grow a great deal. Thanks to Marist, I have already started that journey.