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Commencement 2012

Class Oration at the Academic Awards Ceremony

The following is a transcript of the speech prepared by Michael A. Wahl '12 (West Warwick, R.I.) and Emma Wright '12 (Lake Hill, N.Y.), and delivered by Wahl at the Academic Awards Ceremony during Commencement Weekend. The two students were tied for highest academic rank in their class.

Father President, distinguished guests and honorees, administrators, faculty, and staff, parents, relatives, and friends, and members of the Providence College Class of 2012:

Think all the way back, if you can, to our first semester of freshman Civ, when we learned from Aristotle that “excellence lies in the mean.” While this seems a relatively simple ideal, Aristotle warns us – and our own experience confirms — that finding the mean, achieving a balance, is not always so easy. The mean in which excellence lies is not a mathematical average; it is not a calculation; it is not even the same for each of us. The mean lies in knowing ourselves and being able to judge wisely about what is to our benefit and what is not. Achieving excellence is a delicate balancing act – one which requires much wisdom and which must be learned from the models of good teachers, through experience, and only after much practice.

We have learned from the good example of our parents, our first teachers; we have learned from our dedicated professors, who, for the past four years, have shared with us their own passion for knowledge and their desire for excellence. And we have learned from each other – living, working, and studying together in community. Emma and I speak on behalf of our entire class when we offer to our parents, professors, mentors, and friends our most sincere and heartfelt thanks.

Our four years at Providence College have been an exercise in striving for excellence. I do not speak, however, only of the excellence that leads to graduation honors or to medical school admission or to landing the perfect job. More important than this, Providence College has been for us the means of developing the excellence of character that will allow us to lead lives full of integrity and joy. This is the excellence that will lead to our true happiness, but by no means is it easily attained. Our time at Providence College, therefore, has been our opportunity to grow in the wisdom necessary to lead balanced lives, lives according to the mean. We have spent four years learning how to integrate the demands of our studies, our involvement with clubs and organizations on campus, our commitments to service in the local community, and the forging and maintaining of close friendships. Providence College has given us the opportunity to learn to order our lives, order our loves, and live by the rule of the mean.

Now, as we prepare to take leave of Providence College, we are caught up in a flurry of different thoughts and emotions, and find ourselves faced with yet another difficult balancing act. Providence College has been our home for the past four years, and now it is time for us to depart. For many of us, it is difficult to leave the place where we have established ourselves and grown comfortable, especially when the future before us is as yet uncertain. Thus, we are confronted with a desire to remain here and stay where we feel at ease. Yet, at the same time, we are filled with a sense of excitement for what lies ahead: new places, new people, and new experiences. We have the chance to pursue the things we are passionate about and make our mark on the world, living lives full of meaning and purpose; our dreams stand tall before us.

Confronted by these two very different emotions, we see the acute need to strike a balance between them. We wish to stay here a while longer, in the place where we are content, where we call home, but at the same time, we are eager to take off for new and exciting adventures. Where and how, then, do we go from here? “Excellence lies in the mean,” Aristotle tells us. But where is our mean? What is our path to excellence? How do we reconcile our wish to remain where we are comfortable with our spirit of excitement and adventure for what lies ahead?

To stay grounded in a community does not mean that you also have to stay put. Nestled between DiTraglia Hall and Dominic House, there is a statue of St. Dominic which we have all passed countless times during our PC careers. If you look at it closely, you can tell that St. Dominic is moving. He is in mid-stride; his arms are wide open; his face looks intently ahead; he is on a mission. His expression clearly conveys that he is not content to stay in one place. He is determined to keep moving, and we must be, too. Yet, despite all these outward signs of movement, St. Dominic is still grounded. In one sense, he remains physically grounded in that same spot on campus for generations of students to see. But in another way, too, St. Dominic is both moving and remaining at the same time, for amid his movement and engagement of the world, he remains grounded in his pursuit of the Truth.

This is the mean for us, as well; this is our path to excellence. As we keep moving, we also remain grounded in where we’ve been. We take part of Providence College with us as we go forth. The friends we’ve made, the books we’ve read, the ideas we’ve discussed have all left their mark on us and made us the people we are. The way we live and act as we go forth from here is profoundly characterized by our experiences at Providence College.

One of the most important ideals that Providence College has impressed upon us is the value of pursuing Truth. Whether we have studied biology or finance, philosophy or education, veritas has been the object of our efforts. We have sought Truth not only in the classroom, but also through the friendships we have cultivated and the community we have built, and this pursuit does not end with Commencement. Our desire and quest for the Truth has shaped and will continue to shape the way we live and the way we view the world. As we leave Providence College, it is that search for Truth that will guide our explorations and adventures.

At the conclusion of the Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot writes, “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Wherever our future adventures and explorations may take us, in pursuing the Truth, we are not far from Providence. As we live our lives, our experiences at Providence College will be engrained deep within us, influencing us in yet unknown ways and more clearly revealing to us the Truth for which we have begun to search during our time here and more closely uniting us to the community of which we have become a part.

That unassuming statue of St. Dominic — deliberately moving and yet firmly grounded — reveals to us the mean, the path of excellence, as we take leave of Providence College. It shows us that to keep moving forward is not to surrender our membership to this community. Rather, it charges us to keep moving, keep exploring, keep adventuring in pursuit of the Truth, and in doing so, we will remain firmly anchored in Providence.

May God bless you all. Thank you.

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