Lives of Meaning and Purpose
Wahl, Wright Share Top Academic Rank
EDITOR’S NOTE: With this profile, Providence College launches a week-long series of profiles on members of the graduating Class of 2012. Many of their stories complement PC’s Strategic Plan for 2011-2015: Achieving Excellence. Transforming Lives. Pursuing Truth.
Two members of the Class of 2012 who followed very different scholarly paths are tied for highest academic honors at Providence College.
Michael A. Wahl ’12 (West Warwick, R.I.), a theology and mathematics double major, and Emma Wright ’12 (Lake Hill, N.Y.), a history major with minors in French and German, will prepare an address to students that Wahl will deliver at the Academic Awards Ceremony on Saturday, May 19. The two members of the Liberal Arts Honors Program have earned summa cum laude honors and received straight A's, with a 4.0 grade point average, for their entire academic careers.
Wright has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and will travel to Germany after graduation to assist an instructor in an English-language classroom. Wahl will enter a master’s program in theology at the University of Notre Dame.
Two ways to truth
Wahl said math and theology both require logical reasoning. “It’s approaching the truth from two different angles,” he said.
The student is part of a family legacy at the College. His grandfather is the late Raymond F. Keating ’47, his mother, Cynthia (Keating) Wahl ’82G, earned a master’s degree in special education from PC, and his sister Jenna Wahl will join the Class of 2016 in the fall. Five of his first cousins also graduated from PC during his four years on campus.
Wahl came to PC from Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, R.I., where he enjoyed math and science and planned to study them in college, though he was fairly certain that he also wanted to pursue a degree in theology. A course Wahl took during the second semester of his freshman year confirmed that desire. The Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, taught by Dr. Paul L. Gondreau, professor of theology, “helped me see theology as an academic discipline, that it was as reasonable and logical as any other science,” he said.
Wahl had been very involved in his parish, St. Joseph in West Warwick. He was an altar server, taught CCD, and led the youth group. He continued in that direction at PC as a student leader in PC for Life and Campus Ministry, work that he described as “extremely transformative to me.” In 2012 he was named the co-recipient of the Sister Annette Desmarais, O.P. Award for extraordinary volunteer and charitable work in the Providence area.
He also has received numerous accolades for his academic writing and achievements. He received the Rev. Thomas Urban Mullaney, O.P. Award for the best essay on Thomism and first prize in the 2011 Father Michael J. McGivney College Essay Contest, sponsored by the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America. He was selected for a Father Philip A. Smith, O.P. Fellowship for Service and Study Abroad and studied at the University of Oxford’s Blackfriars Hall in 2011, concentrating on John Henry Newman’s writings on university education.
In addition, Wahl revised a paper he wrote for a Principle of Moral Decision course in collaboration with Rev. Thomas Petri, O.P., assistant professor of theology, and it has been accepted for publication in Nova et Vetera, a peer-reviewed theology journal.
“He has a level of sophistication in his thoughts that most undergraduates don’t have, certainly not theologically,” Father Petri said.
The professor said Wahl’s study of two different academic disciplines paralleled the Dominican charisma. “All roads of knowledge lead to the truth in one way or another,” he said. “The pursuit of knowledge, in whatever discipline, is leading us to our own fulfillment.”
After graduation, Wahl will study moral theology at Notre Dame. He plans to enter a doctoral program and hopes to teach the subject at the college level one day.
Wright also will pursue passions she developed further at the College. She also has a family relationship to PC — her grandfather was the late Joseph Wright ’34.
Her connection to Germany started early, when she began writing to a German pen pal in fourth grade. She studied German throughout high school and college and has traveled to the country three times — twice as a high school exchange student and once as an au pair. She also served as an au pair in Martinique.
For her Fulbright Award, she will assist an English-language teacher 12 to 14 hours a week. She also will lead an afterschool program for middle school students, fostering English language learning through movies, songs, and cooking.
Also as part of her Fulbright experience, the student — a dietary vegan — will compare American and German food policies and the health of residents of each country. Germany, which has a strong history of food regulation and was a pioneer in the organic foods movement, is an ideal place to conduct such research, she said.
A vegetarian since elementary school, Wright made a New Year’s resolution in her junior year of college to be vegan — avoiding all animal products, including dairy and eggs. This decision stemmed from her volunteer work at a shelter for farm animals in her hometown. “When you see the animals and see how destroyed they are, it really affects you,” Wright said.
Wright plans to attend law school and hopes to pursue a career in sustainable food policy with a government agency such as the Centers for Disease Control or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She feels her international experience will be an asset.
“I truly believe that the movement towards sustainability in the food industry must take place on a global scale, and the best way to do so is through a cross-cultural exchange of ideas, information, and traditional knowledge,” Wright wrote in her personal statement for the Fulbright award. Wright also wrote that she was inspired as a child by the world map that arrived with her copy of National Geographic magazine, hinting at all the exotic places she didn’t know.
She credits her “excellent” language teachers and exchange trips for motivating her studies. At PC, Wright signed up for independent studies to pursue advanced German and, after four years of French in high school, also enrolled in French during her junior and senior years of college.
“It’s important that [language students] have that opportunity to interact with people from other cultures, to get the opportunity to learn more from them,” Wright said. “That can only lead to a little more tolerance, a little more understanding.”
Rev. Leonard P. Hindsley, professor of humanities in foreign languages and Wright’s German instructor, described her as an exceptional student, with a clear focus.
“She has a gift for language, and even more than that, she has a dedication,” she said. “You can be gifted and not do anything. She’s both gifted and hardworking.”
— Liz F. Kay