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Diversity, Community are Themes at Academic Convocation

Providence College emphasized the twin themes of diversity and community when it welcomed 1,040 members of the Class of 2017 and 24 new faculty at its Academic Convocation on Wednesday, September 4.

The ceremony in the Peterson Recreation Center marked the official start of the new academic year. College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 said it is an exciting time because of the completion of the new Ruane Center for the Humanities, the College’s signature academic building. Its opening represents a conviction by PC that “in some ways is counter-cultural,” Father Shanley said.

While many believe that the humanities are a luxury and should be put aside in favor of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, “nothing can be further from the truth” at PC, Father Shanley said. 

The liberal arts teaches students what it means to lead a life of meaning and purpose, a question they will explore for four years and after, he said.  

“That’s the most important question — what is the rest of your life going to look like, and what will give it meaning and purpose … and how you will leave a mark upon this world,” Father Shanley said.

Differences, diversity explored

Father Shanley noted that the Class of 2017 — the Centennial class — is the most diverse in the College’s history, since more than 17 percent are students of color. That gives students an opportunity to learn from others who are different from them, he said.

The idea of difference was explored in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Doubleday, 2003), the Freshman Common Reading Program selection for the academic year. The novel is narrated by a 15-year-old boy with a social disorder similar to Asperger’s syndrome.

Dr. Licia Carlson, associate professor of philosophy, discussed the book during an address titled “Disability, Diversity, and Community.” As a college student, Carlson volunteered at a school for children with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities. They especially enjoyed sharing music.

“A question came to me — What did philosophers, who explore what it means to be human, have to say about the children I was with at the rehabilitation school?” Carlson asked. “What would philosophers, many of whom viewed the ability to reason as the hallmark of what makes us human, have to say about people with intellectual disabilities?

“The philosophical portraits of disability I found bore little resemblance to the children with whom I had shared the experience of music — children who, like me, experienced joys, sorrows, and friendship,” Carlson said.

That led to her unexpected career path, an effort to bring philosophy and disability together. It has required interdisciplinary scholarship, intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking, all qualities that students will have the opportunity to develop at PC, she said.

Essay contest winners recognized

Sean Aherne ’14 (Cohasset, Mass.), president of the Student Congress, offered advice to students embarking on their own personal journeys, “just like Christopher got on the train in the book.” Aherne said he is an introvert and never imagined he would become a resident assistant and member of Student Congress.

“As you start your own journey, if you work hard and stay true to yourself, in time you’ll exceed your greatest expectations,” Aherne said.

Dr. Hugh F. Lena, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, introduced the students who won a summer essay contest about the Common Reading book. They are Gabrielle Mendes ’17 (Scotch Plains, N.J.), first prize; Abigail Shelley ’17 (Brightwaters, N.Y.), second prize; and Veronica Murphy ’17 (Westfield, N.J.), third prize.

Honorable mention awards went to Meghan Donohoe ’17 (Tyngsboro, Mass.), Meagan Nolan ’17 (Medford, N.Y.), and Emily Smolinksy ’17 (Wrentham, Mass.).

During an introduction of new faculty, Lena made special mention of Dr. M. Cary Collins, professor of finance, who is the first Michael A. Ruane Endowed Chair for Innovation in Business Education, and Rev. Paul J. Philibert ’58, O.P., the Rev. Robert J. Randall Distinguished Professor in Christian Culture for 2013-2014.

Also recognized was Dr. Susan F. Skawinski, associate professor of elementary and special education, who is the Joseph R. Accinno Faculty Teaching Award recipient for 2012-13.

The ceremony included performances by Providence College Symphonic Winds, conducted by Dr. Jennifer Bill ’00, special lecturer in music, and the Liturgical Choir and Schola Cantorum, directed by Sherry Humes Dane, director of liturgical music. Anastasia Krawiecki ’14 (Cherry Hill, N.J.) sang The National Anthem, and Elizabeth Randall ’14 (Avon, Conn.) sang the Providence College Alma Mater.

— Vicki-Ann Downing

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