At Academic Convocation on Wednesday, August 31, the Stonehill community opened the new school year by celebrating faculty excellence, hearing sage advice on how to make the most of the college experience, and dipping into local history with the presentation of an Ames shovel to President John Denning, C.S.C. Music came courtesy of the College’s Concert Ensemble and the Collegiate Chorale who framed the fast-moving 50 minute ceremony in a packed field house at the Sports Complex.
The ceremony featured keynote speaker Associate Professor of Biology Brownyn Heather Bleakley, Fr. Denning, students Alison Smith ’17 and Sarah Gaffney ’17, Alumni Council President Christine Ferretti ’92, and Vice President for Mission Rev. James Lies. English Professor Helga Duncan was honored with this year’s Louise F. Hegarty Award for Excellence in teaching.
As he bestowed the award, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Joseph Favazza, shared some words of praise for Professor Duncan from her students and a peer:
“Helga Duncan is undoubtedly one of the best teachers I have ever had. She is extremely passionate about her work, and teaches in a way that is interesting and engaging…She truly cares about her students, and even in a larger seminar class, I felt like she set aside time to get to know me at a personal level.”
“Professor Duncan epitomizes what it means to be an academic, a teacher, and a mentor. Her classes are consistently engaging and thought-provoking, she places the well-being and learning of her students before her own convenience, she displays an honest and fervent passion for her work, and her classes emphasize growth and accomplishment without sacrificing the humor and egalitarianism for the best learning.”
“The common thread that binds student evaluations from one semester to the next include the effusive admiration for Prof. Duncan’s clarity, organization, classroom management, concern for student improvement, and of course, her dynamism and attentiveness as a teacher and mentor. Were we to compile a concordance of Prof. Duncan’s evaluations…we would find that ‘caring, ‘challenging,’ ‘encouraging,’ ‘inspiring,’ ‘kind,’ and ‘passionate’ are among those that appear with the most frequency (along with ‘awesome!’).”
Professor Duncan, accepted the award with deep gratitude and appreciation for the honor, saying, “although I teach some of the most eloquent writers in the English language, I am speechless. Thank you.”
To read an Alumni Magazine profile of Professor Duncan, visit here.
Alison Smith followed, representing the Class of 2017, and welcomed the Class of 2020 to the school and warmly introduced keynote speaker Associate Professor Bronwyn Bleakley.
“I have been fortunate enough to have been in countless of [Professor Bleakley’s] classes and to have worked in her lab for three years. I have watched first-hand how much work she does and how much she cares for her job and the success of every student she comes in contact with regardless of their major or background.”
Professor Bleakley, last year’s Hegarty Award recipient, demonstrated that depth of character through her keynote address to the incoming students. She expertly framed the journey through college as one with a variety of paths to success, all of which are viable so long as students are true to themselves.
“My hope for you starting this year, whether you are just starting the journey of college, looking to begin a post-graduate life, or even planning retirement, is that you will yearn for the vast and endless sea of all the things we don’t know and that all of us in this room can work together to develop new and more polished lenses. With a set of lenses, resiliency, and the support of each other we can discover amazing new things.”
Using a number of examples from the animal kingdom, including mantis shrimp, bread crumb sponge isopods, tardigrades, and, of course, guppies, Professor Bleakley urged those present to develop new lenses to better interpret the world around us and support success in college, careers, and life:
Plan ahead but accept uncertainty: “Don’t let the uncertainty paralyze you. Ask your professors, your peer mentor, or your internship supervisor for advice about managing your workload, divide your goals into small attainable pieces, and a little before you think you are ready, start your flight.”
Learn to fail and try again: “Success in anything is ultimately built on persistence. Ask for help, accept constructive criticism, rest, and try again. You’ll get there.”
Be willing to ask for and give help: “Everyone needs help sometimes. We were made to get help and to give it. It’s how we weave lives of purpose and accomplish both great and small things. Frequent small acts of kindness will connect you to your community… Ask for what you need and give help generously to those around you.”
Cultivate diverse relationships: “You can look forward to life-long rewarding friendships and the capacity to work effectively with people the world over if you are willing to step just a bit outside your comfort zone to talk with people you might otherwise not have met.”
You can read Professor Bleakley’s full remarks here.
Alumni Council President Ferretti ’92 presented the Officers of the Class of 2017 with their class pins and offered some encouragement to the incoming freshman:
“Like those here from the senior class, I know from personal experience just how exciting it is to be launching a college career—and just how much you have to look forward to over the next four years…Trust me when I tell you that you’ll make lifelong friends here who will be with you through life’s ups and downs and who will support you in everything you do.”
Senior Class President Sarah Gaffney then presented President Denning with the senior class shovel, an O. Ames #2 signature branded four-star shovel, and invited him to share some words with the assembly. Fr. Denning obliged, sharing some wisdom from Pope Francis:
“People may judge you to be dreamers, because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers, and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded. Don’t be discouraged: with a smile and open arms, you proclaim hope and you are a blessing for our one human family, which here you represent so beautifully.”
Fr. Denning urged Stonehill students to remember those words throughout the 2016-2017 school year:
“Be dreamers. Believe in a new humanity. Don’t be discouraged. And especially, with a smile and in open arms, proclaim hope.”