There’s a saying that everybody in the entire world is connected by six people. It’s called six degrees of separation.
Growing up in the tiny state of Delaware though, it always feels more like two or three degrees of separation. Everybody knows everybody in this state, or is a friend of a friend. It’s a tight-knit state of less than a million people where you’ll frequently run into people you knew from high school and college. If someone names a high school in the area, you probably know someone who went there.
Nowhere does is this interconnected state more apparent than in the university town of Newark, Delaware and it’s surrounding area. Many Delawareans can count themselves as part of the Fightin’ Blue Hens community, myself included. The University of Delaware is a major part of the identity not just of Newark, but the entire state of Delaware. It’s a great school with a fine reputation, and the source of many wonderful memories.
So you can imagine my dismay when I learned of Austin Vantrease in late 2010, who committed his crime against Ryan during the fall of my senior year. It made me feel sick to my stomach to think that my undergrad was being represented by him, and that people might think that everyone from the Greater Newark, Delaware Area supports what he did.
I remember that World Series. Sure, it would have been nice to have gotten the Back-To-Back World Series for the Phillies, but my response was to pout for a little bit, shrug, and then move on. It never would have occured to me to kick someone in the head while they were passed out on the ground because they trash-talked the Phillies. What Austin did illustrated a terrifying rage and a complete lack of empathy.
I was hooked in by the University of Delaware connection to Ryan’s story, but I stayed as I got to learn about what wonderful character he had, and what amazing tenacity and dedication his family had for him.
About a year after I started reading this blog, I discovered that my UD college buddy was a cousin of [a co-defendant in the civil case], who was friends with Austin Vantrease, who kicked Ryan in the head. I never knew Ryan or his family, yet I was connected to his tragedy by three degrees of separation.
It really is a small world (or state) after all.
And that made me think about the fact that everybody is connected to everybody else. One action by one person can ripple out and touch so many people. Austin’s didn’t just affect the Divineys and Ryan’s friends. It also affected the people who didn’t know him but learned about his story.
In realizing this, a person can make a choice. You can send out bad actions and see the negative consequences of what you did affect not just your friends and family, but people you’ve never even met. Or you can try your best to be a kind person, and hope that the person you were kind to decides to be kind to someone because you were kind to them, and so on and so forth. Ryan was a kind person, who affected so many peope in his first 20 years on this planet because of his kindess, and continues to so even though his voice has been taken from him.
I may be separated by three degrees from Ryan Diviney, but I know that I strive to be a better person because of him.