It all started with an Instagram story on April 16 when Gonzaga senior Jack O'Neil asked followers to send him their address if they wanted a letter.
O'Neil is a well-known face on campus. He has been on GUide Core, helping to plan one of GU's new student orientations, and has worked as a supervisor at the Rudolf Fitness Center. More recently, given the current circumstances, O’Neil has started writing letters to his fellow Zags.
“I kind of just got a little bored throughout the last couple weeks, and realized I wasn’t gonna see a lot of people I wanted to see before I took off,” O’Neil said in an interview over Zoom.
O’Neil has gotten close to 40 requests for letters, and has worked through almost a quarter of them. He has not only been writing to Zags, however. He has gotten requests from cousins on the East Coast, an old friend from high school and even a random person he met at a bar in Boise.
He said he is writing letters to anyone who reaches out and lets him know they want one. It doesn’t matter if they were best friends, had a class together or only knew each other in passing. It is important to him to affirm those around him, and writing letters has provided an outlet for him to give those affirmations.
“He’s just super, super outgoing, he loves to make connections with people as much as possible,” said Jordan Thompson, O’Neil’s girlfriend, over Zoom.
Thompson specified that O’Neil really values making “genuine connections” — more than just the “Hi, how are you?” on Bulldog Alley.
“I feel like letters are just a cool thing to give people,” O’Neil said.
The letters have a more sentimental value for O’Neil as well.
“I’m reminiscing on how great the last four years have been,” he said. “I’m using [the letters] kind of as just a thank you for being in my life in general. Not enough people hear that people in their lives are thankful for them.”
“I think just him wanting those genuine connections and being such an outgoing and caring person on all of those levels is what made him want to write those letters,” Thompson said.
In addition to being a way for O’Neil to practice gratitude, the letters have also served to minimize his screen time during quarantine.
“I don’t want to do homework but I don't want to just sit on my phone,” he said.
Thus, he turned to writing letters.
“Growing up, my mom forced me to write letters for anytime a family member gave me a gift for a birthday or Christmas,” O’Neil said.
What began as a forced habit has now become an enjoyable past-time.
“There’s something about pen to paper and putting it in the mail,” he said.
O’Neil also hopes that the letters serve as an encouragement for staying in touch with people after leaving Spokane, especially knowing that not everyone will be able to make it for the official graduation ceremony in September.