Redemption Song

Today is Graduation Day at Oglethorpe University. Of all the graduates that I adore, the one I am most proud of is David Dixon. This is his story.

On November 21, 2001 David Dixon’s world changed forever, and Chisa Dunn’s life ended. A young man of terrific athletic abilities and scholastic promise, David had stayed up for over 38 straight hours, working, studying and traveling home from the University of Miami. After reuniting with friends at the Waffle House in Atlanta, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car on the way to an ATM machine and plunged into Chisa’s car, killing her immediately.

In the ensuing trial, David and his mother met Chisa’s parents and fell into a sobbing embrace with them. In an incredible act of forgiveness, Chisa’s parents made only two requests of David: to honor their daughter by finishing school, and to make a difference with his life. David promised, but over the next five years he dropped out of school and found himself almost unable to get out of bed, racked by terrible guilt and depression. His mother tried everything she could think of to get him back on track, but nothing seemed to connect.

Glimmers of hope emerged when David met Dosia (whom he will marry a week from today), a girl from New Orleans who knew something about tough times and wasn’t about to let David sit around doing nothing. She dragged him through two malls before persuading him to take a job at Cole-Hahn, his first real activity in years. As David  slowly came back to life, his mom persuaded him to apply to Oglethorpe University in the Evening Degree Program, with a little friendly encouragement from my husband. David got another boost when Larry recommended him for an entry-level position in the Admissions office, and soon he was promoted, working full time, taking a full load, making the Dean’s List, and earning a 3.1 GPA. But all along the way, Chisa Dunn has never been far from his mind. In fact, he has the date of the accident tattooed on his back.

Here is what he wrote two days ago  to my husband:

Last week, I spoke (for the first time since my trial) to the mother and father of the girl in my car accident. I let them know that not only did I keep my promise to graduate, but I earned 2 degrees (one for me and one for her). When I told them that on top of that I was in Admissions at Oglethorpe, Chisa’s mother started crying and said “I’ve been asking God, where’s the silver lining? And then you called…thank you.”  With every student I talk to, a piece of Chisa Dunn comes out of my mouth.  If it were not for your belief in me in both work and school, I would not have been able to tell her that.”

Today when the graduates walk down the aisle, I know that David’s mom is going to be sobbing and I probably will be, too – for Chisa Dunn who never got the chance to graduate, and for David who has kept his promise and is striving every day to honor her memory at this wonderful little college in Atlanta.

(David asked me to make my $100 donation today to The Ridgeview Institute in Smyrna, GA, where he was treated for depression during the dark days after the accident.)

8 thoughts on “Redemption Song

  1. oh my. This story made me stop and think and ponder and reflect…. and salute David who accepted responsibility for the accident and rose above it to redeem his life.

  2. beautiful. heart-wrenching. hopeful.
    There but for the Grace of God goes any of us, or our children. Bless her parents for forgiveness. Bless David for never taking her life, or his, lightly.

  3. Yes, I teared up as well! so much I had to go get tissue before the story was over. Somehow, I now carry a bit of Chisa, her parents, David, his family, and Dosia with me as well. And the profound connection of all wanting to make a difference. I found ‘ What Gives 365’ today, from Julia Moulden on Huffington Post, after looking up Tom Rand. I like the difference he makes. I have been a National Park Ranger for many years and love the pristine wilderness. I currently live very simply on a permaculture organic farm in Hawaii. I am searching for ways to live my values of simplicity, and contribute my gifts while spending more time in Atlanta with my elderly mom. I have driven by Oglethorpe much of my life, and will again do so soon. I will smile with this sweet connection of so many people striving to make a difference with their great hearts, and for David touching lives of others in part for Chisa. Congratulations David on your graduation and wedding! warm aloha to all!

  4. Incredible story of reconcialation and restoration. As to depression -been, there, done that -several times, years ago -but not recently. Thanks to Larry , the Dunn’s, you , Dosia and especially David for overcoming depression and truly growing as a human being. David’s graduation is much more than just a degree. It’s a testimony to the power of community and the resilience of the human spirit. Thanks much for sharing this, Betty.
    It’s an inspiration to everyone – especially those struggling with depression, guilt and the temptation to blame. Go Oglethorpe!
    Shalom
    John Shippee

  5. Wow, this post brought tears to my eyes! I will think of you standing, cheering, and clapping today as David graduates!!!

  6. You’ve got me crying this morning…what a bittersweet story. Chisa’s parents are utterly amazing and I feel proud of David, too and I don’t even know him! We humans are so fragile and resilient.

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