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Commencement 2013: Academic Awards Ceremony

Slow Down, Watch the Squirrels 

By Margaret Szot '13 (Keene, N.H.), Highest in Academic Rank

Good morning everyone — faculty, students, parents, and other guests. I am truly honored to have this opportunity to speak to you today.

When I opened a word document to begin writing this speech and was confronted by the blank page, I experienced a growing sense of panic. Faced with the possibility of a nervous breakdown, I turned to two trustworthy resources on which I have relied most heavily during my time at Providence College: God and Google. So I said a few prayers and then checked Google for inspiration. All it offered was such hackneyed phrases like “Say ‘yes’ to life, follow your heart, and dare to be different.” I also considered “Be transformed,” but then I realized PC had already laid claim to this phrase.

Frustrated, I looked out the window and observed a large squirrel hopping around. Most students and faculty are probably aware of the unique characteristics of the Providence College squirrel population, but I will provide a brief overview for those uninformed. Squirrels are typically found in great abundance on this campus, especially around and inside the trash cans. They are well-fed, aggressive, and fearless creatures. Over my years at PC, I have become very fond of watching these squirrels, as they delight in Ray leftovers and suddenly fly out of trash cans, frightening unsuspecting students walking to class.

I used to be too focused for such a frivolous pastime as squirrel-watching. Like my fellow students assembled here today, I am task-oriented and focused on getting my work accomplished. There are no spaces carved out in our endless “To-Do” lists for activities like “Squirrel Appreciation.” We act with purpose, make things happen, and get things done. This drive is undoubtedly a good thing. We all must cherish and continually strengthen our work ethics, to maintain a level of productivity that gives rise to excellence.

However, in my time at PC I have come to appreciate that in our pursuit of success, we must not forget to occasionally engage in some squirrel-watching, or other equivalent activity. When I watch these animals, I realize how blessed I am to be in a place where even the squirrels are healthy and have plenty to eat, a basic human right that nevertheless millions of people around the world go without. It makes me appreciate the beauty of our campus and how privileged I am to be a part of this community. Squirrel watching anchors me to the present and fills me with gratitude.

Hopefully, right now we are living in the moment. We have had a week exclusively dedicated to enjoying the blessings we’ve received at Providence College: the formal education, lifelong friendships, and countless other opportunities for personal growth and learning. As our time together comes to a close and we enter the next phase of our lives, may we continue in the spirit of reflection, gratitude, and joy that permeates Commencement Week. Let’s never forget to slow down and watch the squirrels, because taking this time for ourselves is ultimately required in order to “say ‘yes’ to life, follow our hearts, and dare to be different.” Thank you and congratulations.

Learn more about other Commencement Weekend events and the Class of 2013 on the Commencement page.
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