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Katerina Protsenko '14 and Laura Wells '14

Commencement 2014

Finding Truth and Love at Providence College

 Katerina Protsenko '14 (Newington, Conn.) and Laura Wells '14 (Poughquag, N.Y.) were tied for the top spot in the academic ranking of the Class of 2014. The two collaborated on a Class Oration that Wells presented at the Academic Awards Ceremony.

On behalf of Katerina and myself, I'd like to thank our president, Fr. Shanley, all of our parents and families, the faculty and staff of Providence College, and all of the fellow students and friends who have made it possible for all of us at this awards ceremony to be where we are today. First and foremost, this is a weekend of gratitude: gratitude for the many ways Providence College has been a blessing to us. And one of the greatest blessings of our time at Providence College is having you, our dear mentors and friends, in our lives. So to all of you: thank you.

This past year I babysat two little boys, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. In the mornings, we'd often take walks around the PC campus. The highlight of the whole outing was the automatic door opening buttons of the Ruane Center -- a never-ending source of entertainment. Often these walks seemed to happen at 20 past the hour, when, like clockwork, the sidewalks become the scenes of rush-hour traffic as students hurry to class. There is an unwritten, but very complete, system of pedestrian traffic laws: a right side of the sidewalk to walk on, a certain speed limit which is acceptable, and if you're making a left turn into the library you have to yield to on-coming traffic -- and you wait staring at a steady stream of marching college students, heads down checking their phones.

But the little boys know none of these unwritten laws. They obliviously and gleefully zigzag across the sidewalk behind McDermott, rolling a tennis ball down the hill, crunching on dry leaves, or skipping along, stopping to trace a letter engraved on one of the bricks -- completely violating all of the traffic rules. While such disturbance of the status quo would be a major faux-pas for a fellow college student, when the kids do it, it's just adorable. People look up from their phones and slow down a bit to smile at the curious little guys. I feel so blessed to get to see the smiles those two boys innocently put on people's faces just through their everyday antics.

I'm also blessed to be forced to slow down to match the 2-year-old's pace myself-- it allows me to take the time to appreciate PC's campus a bit more -- and, as the boys race to the coveted buttons, to look up at Ruane and to read the words engraved over the arches. On one side is a verse from the Gospel of John, where Jesus tells His disciples: "You will know the Truth, and the Truth with set you free." On the opposite arch is the concluding line of Dante's Divine Comedy "The Love that moves the sun and the other stars." How fitting it is that these two lines adorn Ruane -- the building that has perhaps been the most noticeable physical transformation that PC has undergone our senior year -- for it is these two realities, Truth and Love, that have made Providence College the transformative experience it has been for our lives over the past four years.

"You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free." We are gathered today at this awards ceremony to celebrate the pursuit of truth; the pursuit of excellence in a multitude of different academic disciplines. All of these fields and specialties are united in their contributions to Providence College, as they have been part and parcel of our pursuit of the one, integrated, unified Truth that can be harmoniously explored through various lenses. Going to a Dominican liberal arts college, we've reaped the benefits that come with discovering the Truth through a balanced variety of perspectives. We've been apprentices to the Truth in our science labs, literature seminars, math classes, CIV lectures -- and all of these views have added a certain dimension to our understanding of the truth -- the truth that goes to the core of our identity, the truth of what it means to flourish as a human person.

The Truth that answers the deep questions of life: Who are we? Who are we meant to be? Where will we find lasting happiness? These are huge questions, and it would be too daunting an endeavor to face on one's own. Luckily, we don't have to. In fact, I don't think we could answer these questions on our own. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship." As humans, we find ourselves and discover who we are in community. The Truth we are pursuing is so much larger than ourselves and our isolated, individual opinions. We have to pursue it together. And we have done so over these four years at Providence College: through engaging with authors of past centuries and even millennia in our CIV classes, through exploring questions with the guidance of professors and mentors, through late-night conversations with friends. The Truth isn't something that can be consigned to a textbook -- it is too effusive and abundant and liberating for that. The Truth is something that is only illuminated through love, through the living witness of those who have been beacons in our search for authentic happiness.

pc2014-logo.jpgWhich brings us across the Ruane archway to the second quotation: "The Love that moves the sun and the other stars." Here Dante is speaking of the celestial Divine love; but I think the love of the friendships formed at PC partakes of a quality of this Divine charity. Precisely because we have shared our pursuit of the Truth which is larger than ourselves, the friendships formed at PC have both been so transformative and will be so lasting. Think back to our first year of CIV, reading Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. There, with the wisdom of the ancients, Aristotle wrote about three different types of friendship. There are friendships we form for the sake of pleasure, just because we enjoy spending time together. There are also friendships we form for some benefit they give us, because we know that our friends will help us in some way. And then there are virtue friendships -- friendships that are grounded on something deeper, the cultivating of virtue, the pursuit of excellence, the road to sanctity. I love spending time with my friends -- we have a blast together. And my friends have benefited me in countless ways. One that immediately comes to mind is listening to me practice this speech ad nauseam -- and still promising to clap at the end. But the thing I am most grateful for is the way in which my friends -- roommates, classmates, professors and mentors --have formed me into who I am and have challenged me to become who I am meant to be.

Truth without love would be inhuman and would miss a crucial aspect of our identities; but love without truth would also lose its substance, and would disintegrate into sentimentality. We need the truth to challenge us to continue to be transformed, and the love to shape and guide this transformation. As we leave Providence College and go out to embrace the next step of the adventure that God has in store for our lives, we'd do well to imitate those two little boys skipping down the sidewalk to Ruane: keep your curiosity aflame, keep exploring the world with the joyful wonder of the child, always walking under the two banners that have shaped our time at Providence College: Truth and Love. Let us go forth from PC lovingly bearing the torch of Veritas, witnessing with charity to the light of the Truth wherever our lives will take us.

May God bless you all. Thank you. 

Read more about Commencement 2014
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