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Liberal Arts Honors Program Brunch--May 14, 2011

Stephanie A. Callahan '11

Good morning everyone and thank you so much Dr. Lynch for asking me to speak today. If you know me, you know that I love Providence College. If you do not know me, I should have you convinced in a few minutes. The Honors Program, of course, is particularly outstanding. Through this program, I have been pushed to use parts of my brain that I did not know I had, I have made lasting friendships, I have traveled abroad, and, most importantly, I have learned to trust in Providence.

"Thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process," according to Vera Brittain, a lesson I learned during my freshman year. Coming from a high school where education was memorizing flashcards and doing workbook exercises, I wanted little to do with expanding my intellectual horizon. Dr. Esolen sparked within me the desire to learn differently, and encouraged my freshman CIV class to articulate their own interpretation of the material. Since then I've gained the confidence to articulate my opinion, and received the proper guidance to do so intelligently.  Professors like Dr. Barbour welcome frazzled students such as myself for matters other than school-work; he once humored me for about an hour while I babbled about my future plans. Then, of course, there are the professors I have enjoyed enough to take a second, third, even fourth time … That means you, Dr. Morgan. The Honors Program also offered help to applicants of post-baccalaureate scholarships: congratulations to Alex BetGeorge, who is teaching English in Bulgaria next year on a Fulbright Scholarship! The professors do not only cultivate passion for academics; Corey Plante enjoys bragging that his advisor, Dr. Lynch, gave him a surfing lesson! I hope that the faculty of Providence continues to impact our development even after graduation; I intend on asking for book recommendations now that I have more free time to read what I want!

Meeting friends that were smart and driven is also an integral part of the Providence College experience, as Fr. McGonigle wisely noted at his end-of-year speech to my freshman CIV class. I quoted him in my notebook as saying, "If there is one thing I hope you learn here at Providence College, it is about friendship." Of course, we had studied Aristotle's philosophical take on friendship the previous semester, but when he said that I was more focused on the friends I made during that first year of Honors CIV. Now, as I quote him, I look around at you and try to find those same friends, even more important to me now than they were then, as well as friends who I met later at Providence. I stress the importance of friendship because I believe in the adage Annie Dillard notes, "Buddhism notes that it is always a mistake to think your soul can go it alone." The bonds we have made here, whether amongst peers or with faculty, are important. That is the lesson Fr. McGonigle wanted us to take away from our experience at Providence College.

Something else unique to my experience here is how these faculty members and friends have literally helped me across oceans. Traveling to Rome, Florence, Vienna, Bratislava, Munich, Athens, and many Greek islands with the Honors Program is how I have spent my spring breaks at Providence College. These trips presented the opportunity for a hands-on study of Western Civilization; my friends and I climbed St. Peter's Basilica, stood in front of Michelangelo's David, and walked to the Pnyx, where the ancient Athenian legislature met. My favorite moment of our trip to Rome was sitting in front of the Pantheon on our last night in the city, talking philosophy with my friends while eating gelato. Another memory of mine shows how well Dr. Lynch knows his students; he remembered that I love the Baroque painter Caravaggio and directed me towards his paintings. In Vienna and Munich I met some of my closest girl friends, where we experienced the contemporary culture as well as the city's history; we spent one night at Wiener Eistraum, a winter festival which translates to "Vienna Ice Dream." We all have mugs to commemorate this event, remembering how we watched the locals ice skate around their city hall while eating ethnic Austrian food.

So, it is the day before Commencement; after tomorrow we will all be clinging to the adage "Forever a Friar" and anxiously waiting for Alumni Weekend 2012. At this time I remember the end of my freshman year at Providence, when my CIV class studied Milton's Paradise Lost. The epic poem ends just as Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden.  Milton writes:

"Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;

The world was all before them, where to choose

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;"

We find ourselves now in a parallel position, leaving behind the comfortable world of Providence College for the unknown. But, we must wipe our tears as Milton's Adam and Eve do, and trust in Providence to guide us. Of course, we are lucky enough not only to have Divine Providence at our backs, but to also have Providence College as part of our own personal history.

Thank you again to Dr. Lynch, the faculty of Providence College, and, of course, Mom, Dad, Nana, and Papa, and congratulations to all of the graduating seniors!


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