Historian McCullough tells graduates: America is lucky, resilient
By Vicki-Ann Downing
The One Hundredth graduating class in the history of Providence College heard acclaimed historian and author David McCullough discuss the role luck has played in history, and received his wish for luck in their own lives, during Commencement Exercises at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in downtown Providence on Sunday, May 20, 2018.
“How lucky we all are to live in this great country, where freedom of speech, rule of law, and representative government remain the way of life; where love of learning holds strong; where there are public libraries that are free to the people,” McCullough said.
“The lessons of history are beyond counting,” McCullough said. “One is that nothing of consequence is ever accomplished alone. It’s a joint effort. Nor is there ever, or was there ever, a foreseeable future, or a self-made man or woman. We are all the result of many who have come along the way, who have taught us and encouraged us, seen to our needs, who are there for us in times of need.
“We have serious problems to face as a people, make no mistake, and one of them is our public school system, but we will solve that problem and others. That’s been our way. That’s our history.”
McCullough is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He has been an editor, teacher, lecturer, and voice on public television and on documentaries. In 2013, he was the keynote speaker at the dedication of PC’s Ruane Center for the Humanities.
The College presented 1,169 diplomas during the Commencement Exercises, including 905 bachelor’s degrees to full-time undergraduates; 226 master’s degrees to graduate students in education, history, theology, mathematics, and business administration; 32 degrees to students in the School of Continuing Education; and six honorary degrees.
In addition to McCullough, honorary degree recipients were Joseph P. Brum ’68, consultant and retired special assistant to the president for development projects at PC; Brian M. Maher ’68, retired director of the Long Island Educational Opportunity Center at Farmingdale State College; U.S. Army Col. (Ret.) Lisa M. (Thibault) Schenck ’83, associate dean for academic affairs at The George Washington University Law School; Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College and author of the landmark book, ‘Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria’ and Other Conversations About Race; and Larry Rachleff, retired music director for the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and a professor at Rice University.
In his commencement address, McCullough told graduates the desire for luck is part of human nature, and it’s part of history, too, because history is human. A course examining the role of luck in history would be a fascinating one, he said. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was known to carry a rabbit’s foot during the 1932 election campaign. Winston Churchill, when asked about courage, once said that the nation had the lion’s heart, and he had the luck to give the roar.
McCullough described the role luck played in allowing 9,000 troops from the American army to evacuate Brooklyn after the first great battle of the Revolutionary War, in the final days of August 1776 – also the subject of his book, 1776. Outsmarted and outfought by the British, George Washington’s army was trapped, but a miraculous shift in the wind allowed a small armada of boats to transport the army to safety all night long, and at daybreak, dense fog settled in to conceal the escape.
Wilbur Wright, who with his brother, Orville, became the first to build and fly an airplane — the subject of McCullough’s book, The Wright Brothers —was destined for college until he was injured during a pickup hockey game, said McCullough. Instead, at home in a house full of books provided by his father, “an itinerant preacher who believed in a liberal arts education at home,” Wilbur Wright read about a glider enthusiast and studied birds, which led him to “begin thinking in ways he never had.
“The worst thing that had ever happened to him was transformed by him into the best thing — it gave him a mission,” said McCullough. “With his brother, he changed the world.”
McCullough said the greatest stroke of his own life was “the arrival on the scene of a princess from afar,” his wife of 63 years, Rosalee. The couple has five children and 19 grandchildren.
“I close now with a few thoughts for you,” said McCullough. “Be generous. Count kindness as all-important in life. Take an interest in those around you. Try to keep in mind that everyone you encounter along the way, no matter their background or station in life, knows something you don’t. Ask people about themselves and listen to them. It’s amazing what you can learn by listening. Speaking the truth, loyalty, decency, courage, and character matter still, indeed count now more than ever.
“You will face serious bumps in the road. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up,” McCullough said. “We’ve known worse times and come through, and we will now, if we never forget who we are and what we stand for. The world needs you, Class of 2018.
“There’s work to be done. Never lapse into being spectators only. If you’re going to ring the bell, give that rope a hell of a pull. Wherever you go, remember to tip the maid. And best of luck to each and every one of you.”
As for the class McCullough was addressing, 37 percent of the undergraduates graduated with honors, including 75 who graduated summa cum laude, 133 who graduated magna cum laude, and 129 who graduated cum laude. Also, 322 students were named to honor societies.
There were 93 undergraduate legacy students in the class — those with least one parent who attended PC — and 21 who shared a legacy with both parents.
At the graduate education level, a milestone was achieved by the College’s Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers program, which celebrated the 300th graduate in its 17-year history. PACT students teach in Catholic schools in New England while working towards a master of education degree and teacher certification or, if they are education graduates who already have certification, they pursue a master’s degree in administration or literacy.
In his remarks to graduates at the beginning of the ceremony, College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 discussed Leonardo Da Vinci, the biography by Walter Isaacson that he now is reading. Father Shanley said Da Vinci was someone who developed his thoughts not just by reading and studying, but through conversations with friends and colleagues — just as students in the Class of 2018 had done.
Ideas are often discovered serendipitously, although at PC, “we would say providentially, by the hand of God,” Father Shanley said.
Among other speakers who brought greetings, Karen Monti Flynn ’80 & ’15P, president of the National Alumni Association, welcomed all graduates to the alumni family.
“Over 56,000 graduates have passed this way before you, and today their collective talents have contributed greatly to every career field imaginable in every state across this country and globally — not to mention their time, talent, and treasure, which has enabled Providence College and you to be all you can be,” said Flynn, who noted that her son, Christian Monti Flynn ’15, would be receiving an MBA degree from the College during the ceremonies.
Conor Glendon ’18 (Valhalla, N.Y.), president of the senior class and an economics major, reflected nostalgically upon his four years at PC.
“We have completed our education here, and in so doing we have strengthened our minds as we’ve learned to think for ourselves and to search for truth in our everyday lives,” Glendon said. “We have strengthened our hearts; we have created an indelible community here at PC, and although our time ends, the family that we have created will extend long past graduation.”
Several government officials offered congratulations, including U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin, D-R.I., Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, and Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza.
The invocation was given by Most Rev. Robert C. Evans, D.D., auxiliary bishop of Providence. The benediction and presentation of graduates was by Rev. Peter Martyr Yungwirth, O.P., College chaplain.
Tiernan Chase ’18 (Newport, R.I.) led the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was performed by Providence College Symphonic Winds, led by Dr. Eric Melley, director of instrumental activities. Thomas Begley ’18 (Saint Albans, Vt.) led the singing of the Alma Mater.
Very Rev. Kenneth R. Letoile, O.P. ’70, chairman of the Providence College Corporation and prior provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, assisted in conferring the honorary degrees.
Student-athlete gives class oration
Members of the Class of 2018 were in the spotlight at other Commencement Weekend events, including the Academy Awards Ceremony and the Commencement Mass on Saturday.
At the Academic Awards Ceremony in Peterson Recreation Center, Kristin Hayman ’18 (Redmond, Wash.), the student with the top academic rank, presented the class oration. Hayman was a biology major and a member of the women’s soccer team. She will pursue the opportunity to play professionally in Europe.
Eric Sung, associate professor of photography, presented greetings from the faculty. Sung is the recipient of the 2017-18 Joseph R. Accinno Faculty Teaching Award, presented to the faculty member who best exhibits excellence in teaching, passion and enthusiasm for learning, and genuine concern for students’ academic and personal growth.
The Commencement Mass and Service of Investiture was celebrated on Saturday afternoon in Peterson Recreation Center with Father Shanley as the principal celebrant and homilist. Fifteen student leaders in academics, organizations, and athletics were invested at the Mass, including Hayman, the top-ranked student, and Glendon, the class president.
Also honored were Phionna-Cayola Claude ’18 (Dedham, Mass.), Alexander Cromwell ’18 (McKinney, Texas), Jarely Paulino Díaz ’18 (Lawrence, Mass.), Brianna Frias ’18 (Worcester, Mass.), Marla Gagne ’18 (West Haven, Conn.), Elizabeth Jancsy ’18 (Marblehead, Mass.), Sarah Kelley ’18 (Swampscott, Mass.), Carolina Lima ’18 (Shrewsbury, Mass.), Simran Madhani ’18 (Southlake, Texas), Marcie Mai ’18 (Methuen, Mass.), Dylan McLoone ’18 (Irvington, N.Y.), Thomas Nee ’18 (Winthrop, Mass.), and Sean Quinn ’18 (North Falmouth, Mass.).
Music at the Mass was provided by the combined liturgical choirs, director by Mark Colozzi, director of liturgical music, and Gabrielle Manion ’18 (Bardstown, Ky.), student conductor; I Cantori and Oriana Women’s Choir, directed by Dr. Todd J. Harper, associate professor of music and director of choral activities; and Concert Chorale, directed by Rev. Vincent Ferrer Bagan, O.P., visiting professor of choral activities.
Cantors were Begley and Anne Rodriguez ’18 (Springfield, Mass.). Readings and the general intercessions were by Nee, Bridgette Clark ’18 (Gaithersburg, Md.), and Laura Makin ’18 (East Greenwich, R.I.). Altar servers were Alexandra Luongo ’18 (Rehoboth, Mass.), Nathaniel Thomas ’18 (Sudbury, Mass.), and Daniel Arteaga ’19 (Pawtucket, R.I.).
Six students commissioned through ROTC
Thirteen students, six from PC, were commissioned as second lieutenants during the Army ROTC Patriot Battalion Commissioning Ceremony on Friday afternoon at the War Memorial Grotto outside St. Dominic Chapel. The guest speaker was Brig. Gen. Bennett E. Singer, land component commander in the Joint Forces Headquarters of the Rhode Island National Guard.
Benjamin Bauchiero ’18 (Suffield, Conn.) and Robert Harris Petry ’18 (West Hartford, Conn.) were recognized as Distinguished Military Graduates. They displayed outstanding qualities of leadership, high moral character, noteworthy academic achievement, superior camp performance, and exceptional aptitude for military service.
Bauchiero majored in business economics with a minor in Spanish. Petry was an accountancy major. Both will attend military officer training at Fort Benning, Ga., and will be assigned for active duty in the infantry.
Also commissioned were:
• Jordan Bernard ’18 (West Hartford, Conn.), a psychology major who earned a neuroscience certificate. Bernard will attend medical service officer training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, followed by service with the Connecticut National Guard.
• Spencer D’Aulisa ’18 (Merrick, N.Y.), a psychology major who minored in Italian. D’Aulisa will attend engineer officer training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and will be assigned for active duty.
• Kyle Kilner ’18 (Highland Falls, N.Y.), a management major. Kilner will attend field artillery officer training at Fort Sill, Okla., followed by duty as a New York Army National Guard officer.
• Bryan Potenziani ’18 (Madison, Conn.), a history major. Potenziani will attend infantry officer training at Fort Benning, Ga., followed by duty as a Rhode Island Army National Guard officer.