Denis Nicholson Asselin: Turning Adversity into Advocacy

Jared Scott Tesler
Throughout his nearly two-decades-long tenure at The Shipley School, from 1990–2009, Denis Nicholson Asselin assumed a multitude of roles: Upper School French teacher, co-chair of the Modern Language Department, Modern Language Curriculum Coordinator, leader of the Villefranche French Exchange Program with The Baldwin School and Notre Dame de Mongré High School, and inaugural chair of the Professional Development Committee. Upon his retirement, Shipley established the Denis Nicholson Asselin Professional Development Award (“What a perfect final tribute—the gift that keeps on giving, even in my absence!”) and Asselin was named an Honorary Alumnus by the Alumni Awards Selection Committee.
“Shipley has become my new alma mater,” says Asselin, whose own high school, St. John’s Atonement Seminary, located in Montour Falls, New York, closed its doors in 1967. “Being an Honorary Alumnus keeps me connected to the School at a deeper level than simply being a former teacher. When I make it to Alumni Weekend, I feel warmly received and included. The School’s motto, ‘Courage for the Deed; Grace for the Doing,’ informs my life every day, and gives me the opportunity and energy to ‘walk the talk.’”
Asselin has, in fact, made it his mission to do just that.
In 2012, after a 13-year struggle with body dysmorphic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder claimed the life of his 24-year-old son, Nathaniel, Asselin quite literally stepped into action. The grieving father embarked on a seven-week, 525-mile pilgrimage from his hometown of Cheyney, Pennsylvania, to Boston, Massachusetts, to raise awareness and funds for evidence-based programs, research, and treatment. That journey—roughly one million steps—became the catalyst for the International OCD Foundation’s annual 1 Million Steps 4 OCD Walk, now in its seventh year.
Vice President of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, Asselin will participate in a panel discussion, “When Your Loved One Has Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” and lead a support group for family members and caregivers at this summer’s 26th Annual OCD Conference in Austin, Texas. His blog, Walking With Nathaniel, continues to provide hope for anyone affected by OCD and related disorders.
“Although our journey of grief has changed and morphed over the years, my family has attempted, always, to move forward and to transform adversity into advocacy,” Asselin says. “I feel as if I can play my part in the forward charge toward a more effective next-generation understanding of the brain and how these disorders can be treated. That mission is clear to me.”

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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.