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Class Oration by Nicole M. Kenny '11: Academic Awards Ceremony

Academic Awards Ceremony -- May 14, 2011

Nicole M. Kenny '11

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following address, presented by Nicole M. Kenny '11, was a collaborative reflection prepared by Yi Cao '11, Megan E. Moran '11, and Kenny, who shared the "Highest in Academic Rank" distinction for the Class of 2011.

A week ago, I sat down with both Megan Moran and Yi Cao, two wonderful and brilliant women, to discuss what we would like to say to our families and friends, professors and administration, and most importantly, our fellow graduates. We found that despite our different interests and experiences, we share very similar sentiments about our four years at Providence College. Yi and Megan, I want to begin, therefore, by congratulating you on your accomplishments, wishing you the best of luck next year, and thanking you for allowing me to speak on behalf of all three of us.

I would like to share a story that Dr. Nick Longo brought back with him from his trip to North Africa this February. It is called "The Story of African Genius":

 A man once desired to gain all of the genius in the world. He decided to travel the globe, collecting every bit of knowledge he could find and storing it in a bag that he carried on his back. As he moved from place to place, gathering wisdom and gaining knowledge, his bag grew heavy, until finally one day the man felt that he had obtained all of the wisdom that he possibly could. He wanted to store his special bag in a safe place and decided that he would place it on the top of a majestic tree. He climbed the tree with his store of knowledge but could not quite make it to the top because the bag was too heavy. Once he realized that he could not carry the bag any further up the tree, he called down to his son for help.  His son responded to this request: "Father, if you truly had all the wisdom of the world in that bag, you would realize it is not meant to be in a tree but is meant to be in the world."

We sit here today amongst our families--those who first gave us our bags and began filling them with bits of knowledge and wisdom on the day we were born. They have taught us to walk and talk, to listen, to respect one another and to love. Most importantly, our families first instilled in us an understanding of the value of learning. In each of our lives, we reached a point where our families stepped back and allowed us to discover the world for ourselves--to begin collecting knowledge all on our own. As a result, we became self-motivated men and women, who claim responsibility for our own learning. As we prepare to graduate tomorrow, we must remember to thank our families for starting us on our own journeys of discovery. Without them, we would not have become the kind of young people drawn to a school like Providence College, where over the last four years, we have gained so much more wisdom for our bags.

As Providence College students, we have been lucky enough to learn from professors who believe that knowledge cannot be hidden away for safekeeping but must be shared. They have chosen to spend their lives adding wisdom to our bags and cultivating the love of learning that first began with our families. What makes our Providence College education so valuable is not simply the facts and figures our professors have given us, but the ability they have crafted within each of us to question and investigate. Our professors understand that the most meaningful knowledge is that which we discover for ourselves, and through their guidance and support, they have encouraged us to seek out wisdom on our own.

Our time at Providence College has also taught us, however, that so much of the knowledge we will collect throughout our lives will be discovered outside of the classroom. As we look out across the crowd today, we see the faces of the friends we have made. Each of us carried with us to college unique experiences and different perspectives. In sharing these with one another, we have all had a hand in each other's education. With every club we joined, event we attended, and meal we ate together, we have learned what it means to be a friend: to support, to listen, and to laugh and cry, and to stand up for one another. Our Providence College diplomas, therefore, not only represent the academic strides we have made but also the strong, loving, supportive people that we have helped each other become.

In returning to "The Story of African Genius", I want to mention something that Dr. Longo brought to our class's attention when he first told us the story. He explained that generally in folkloric myths, the elder figure is the wisest and uses his or her age and experience to correct the follies of youth. In this story, however, the young man brings to light his father's mistake of trying to hide the knowledge he has collected rather than spreading it throughout the world. Ultimately, this story is a testament to the power of youth. Each and every one of us has the capacity to use the knowledge and wisdom we have gained from our families, our professors, and one another to effect meaningful change in the world in which we live. Our time at Providence College has taught us the power of knowledge and that, if we want to be change makers, we must respectfully share what we know with others as well as keep our minds and hearts open to what others may teach us. If we hold dear this most valuable lesson, we will be the generation who will transform the world into the peaceful place that we all hope for.

In closing, I propose that the next time we tell "The Story of African Genius" we amend the ending. What we have learned at Providence College is not only that knowledge and wisdom should be shared among all, but we have also found that the search for knowledge never truly ends. If we were to imagine the son in this story as a Providence College graduate, then perhaps what he might also have explained to his father is, "Father, although your bag is heavy, it does not contain all of the knowledge in the world. We can never know all there is to know, and so we should never stop searching." If at any time we feel that our own bags are full and that we have learned all we can, I hope that we will remember our years at Providence College and grab another bag.


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