UMF professors remember senior during annual symposium

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FARMINGTON — The Michael D. Wilson Symposium at the University of Maine at Farmington on Wednesday paid tribute to the memory of a Rumford student who died this year before completing his senior research project.

“Tyler Daigle, had he lived, would be presenting the results of his senior history research project today,” Allison Hepler, professor of history, said to a room filled with his peers, teachers and family.

Instead, faculty members from the history, anthropology and political science departments remembered Daigle with humorous anecdotes.

The symposium showcases all of the seniors’ research projects.

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“This was his slot,” said Christopher O’Brien, professor of history and department chairman.  “We did it on his behalf.”

Daigle, 23, of Rumford died Feb. 27 after contracting a viral infection in January, said his mother, Susan Grace of Rumford.

Daigle had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. He used a wheelchair and used his fingers to operate items such as a cellphone and a laptop computer.

He spent five years at UMF, and he was happy because he was using his brain, Grace said.

Grace and Daigle’s fiancee, Gabrielle Severence of Dixfield, attended the symposium.  

Daigle liked history and the cultures of other countries since he was 8 years old, Grace said. He wanted to teach history after graduation in May.

The senior history research project takes two semesters. The first is spent designing a research proposal, Hepler said. The second semester is spent doing the research.

Daigle accomplished the first part. He wanted to “do something with the Maya” and came up with a tentative thesis on the Zapatistas in Mexico, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the revolution against Global Free Trade, Hepler said.

Professor O’Brien said he came to celebrate Daigle as a scholar. But he wanted to tell him his proposal was wrong and argue with him about the idea, he said, until he read the proposal and thought: maybe.

Daigle did not have the chance to do the research.

A history major with minors in political science and anthropology, Daigle was remembered as a quiet young man who had a great sense of humor, O’Brien said. 

Other professors told stories of humorous interactions. He was expressive and great to have in class, said Luke Kellett, assistant professor of anthropology.  

Daigle never wanted special treatment, he said. 

Daigle, son of Susan Grace and Gregory Daigle, graduated from Mountain Valley High School in Rumford in 2012. His dream was to go to UMF and teach history, Grace said.

For the first two months of his freshman year, Grace moved into his dorm room to help him before other caregivers became involved. He would live in the dorm through the week and she would pick him up Friday afternoon and take him back Monday morning, she said.

Tyler was the one with the ideas, she said. She was the one behind him figuring out how to make it happen.

He became engaged to Severence at Christmastime. She graduated from Dirigo High School in Dixfield but the two never met until college, she said.

A photo of the two was showcased at the symposium along with a photo of Daigle at Pine Tree Camp in Rome, a special place for Daigle. His self-esteem grew there and he met other young men living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Grace said.

abryant@sunmediagroup.net

Allison Hepler, professor of history at the University of Maine at Farmington, right, gives Tyler C. Daigle’s mother, Susan Grace of Rumford, left, a program from the Michael Wilson Symposium on Wednesday at the university. Professors at the symposium remembered Daigle, who died in February. Others are Daigle’s fiancee, Gabrielle Severence of Dixfield, front row center; Christopher O’Brien, professor of history, back left; and James Melcher, professor of political science, back right.

Tyler C. Daigle

Allison Hepler, professor of history at the University of Maine at Farmington, talks about Tyler C. Daigle during the Michael Wilson Symposium on Wednesday. Daigle died in February before completing his senior research project that he would have presented at the symposium.

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