Lost Password

Yale menu

Daily News

Dennis O'Sullivan

April 12, 2022

Dennis O’Sullivan joined our class as a transfer student from San Francisco State University in our sophomore year. Despite missing that formative freshman year with his college classmates in Durfee, Dennis actively participated in college life at Trumbull and in community service at Dwight Hall and Alpha Phi Omega. After graduation, he spent enough time in law school to determine that he was not cut out to practice law and moved to Philadelphia to use his background in psychology and anthropology in the local court system. He eventually earned a doctorate in psychology and several degrees in education from Temple University.

Dennis was determined to pursue an independent course and to define for himself what was important and productive in life. He rejected conventional definitions of success and maintained, in words he quoted in his essay in our Fiftieth Reunion Classbook, that the only success is “to be able to spend your life in your own way.” Dennis managed to succeed by that definition and at the same time to touch the lives of many others. A perceptive student of human motivation, he spent much of his career counseling individuals in the criminal justice system — and using that experience to inform an influential career as a teacher at the University of Delaware.

Many of those Dennis encountered as a counselor and psychologist were socially marginalized. Dennis was genuinely interested in the life stories of those whose experience was very different from his own and he was a probing examiner of their discontents and a patient listener to their histories. He concluded that for many individuals the pursuit of happiness had failed because they had spent their lives trying to achieve conventional goals that were not personally meaningful to them and he wrote a long monograph elaborating that theme. For Dennis providing service to individuals was important but formulating a framework of beliefs based on that experience was also essential.

Dennis often sought to broaden his horizons by taking courses. On being advised in the late 1970s that the future lay in computer programming, Dennis signed up for a course. It turned out that he had no aptitude for the subject but great aptitude for the teacher, Susan Foster, who became his wife. Susan eventually became Vice President of Information at the University of Delaware and brought Dennis into the University community where he thrived.

written by Mark Greenwold