PROVIDENCE — Nine hundred and five seniors received their diplomas from Providence College at the Dunkin Donuts Center in downtown Providence last Sunday, marking the 100th class to do so.
But that milestone wasn’t necessarily the most impressive number of the day: 322 of them were in one or more honor societies, 130 had been in the liberal arts honors program, 361 had studied abroad, and the graduating seniors had contributed to the school’s annual total of 50,000 hours of volunteer work, a figure which includes all classes.
Three students were tied for the top academic spot with a GPA of 3.99: Sarah Kelley of Swampscott, Mass.; Mira Magner of Shrewsbury, Mass.; and Junho Song of Babylon, New York. Jennifer Dorn of Dallas, Texas became the 11th student over the last seven years to earn a Fulbright award. She will be teaching in the Czech Republic.
Some graduates are heading off to work for some of the top institutions in business, health care, and other industries, including Ernst & Young, Deloitte, Boston Children’s Hospital, PWC, and L’Oreal. About a fourth of the class is moving on to graduate school.
In addition to its undergraduates, Providence College awarded degrees to 226 graduate students in business, education, history, theology, and mathematics and 32 degrees to students in the school of continuing education.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and biographer David McCullough delivered the keynote address. McCullough, who previously visited the college as a speaker for the opening of the Ruane Center for the Humanities in 2013, is the author of The Wright Brothers, John Adams, 1776, and Truman, among other works.
Drawing from his writing, McCullough spoke about the importance of luck in the outcomes of history and individual lives. He told of an expeditious fog that enabled George Washington to withdraw his troops during the Battle of Brooklyn, sparing the colonies what would have been a disastrous defeat.
But luck isn’t just something that happens to us, according to McCullough. “It is often said we can make good luck happen,” he said, citing the story of Wilbur Wright, who used time recovering from depression over an athletic injury to read. Eventually, Wilber would go on with his brother Orville to conduct the first successfully controlled flight of an airplane in 1903.
“How lucky we all are to live in this great country, where freedom of speech, the rule of law and representative government remain the way of life,” McCullough added. He noted there are “serious problems” facing the United States — he gave the example of failing public schools — but expressed confidence that the country would solve them because that has been “our way.”
In his remarks, college President Father Brian J. Shanley, O.P., highlighted the importance of developing ideas through ‘serendipitous’ conversation with others, citing Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci: “Ideas are often generated in physical gathering places where people with diverse interests encounter one another serendipitously.”
“I want to suggest that your time at Providence College has been like da Vinci’s time in Milan,” Father Shanley said. “Only I do not think it came about serendipitously, but rather providentially. All those conversations and collaborations that were so essential to your learning were the hand of God guiding you deeper into the journey into the truth that has marked your time at Providence College.”
In his speech, class President Conor Glendon said his experience at PC began when he visited the school and heard an admissions counselor tell prospective students that their experience there would “transform” them. “As a 17-year-old … I did not care much for finding a school that would transform me, but rather just a school I would love. I’ve loved my time here at PC and I can now say that these past four years have been transformative,” Glendon said.
The college granted honorary doctorate degrees to: Joseph Brum, the founder of the school’s alumni relations program; Brian Maher, a longtime education who most recently served as the director of the Long Island Educational Opportunity Center; McCullough; Larry Rachleff, an internationally recognized conductor who teaches at Rice University; Lisa Schenck, a retired U.S. Army colonel who is the associate dean for academic affairs at The George Washington University Law School; and Beverly Tatum, the retired president of Spelman College and an expert on racism.
Diocese of Providence Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans delivered the invocation.
One other milestone marked this year was in the Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers (PACT) program, which saw its 300 participants graduate. The program, which is in its 17th year, combines a graduate degree in education with two years of teaching service in a local elementary school, with a stipend and the cost of health insurance covered by Providence College.
Brother Patrick Carey, CFC, the director of PACT, is retiring this year. At the commencement, he read the names of those who are earning their master’s degrees in education.
After commencement, students had mixed emotions. Quamee Andrade, a recipient of a master’s in education, said she felt “good” and “relieved.” For undergraduate Samuel Ford, however, it all felt a bit “surreal.” “It hasn’t totally sunk in for me yet,” Ford said.