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Student commencement speakers chosen

Commencement speeches will address identity at Brown, value of healthy controversy

After an almost semester-long selection process, Caroline Bologna ’14 and Josh Block ’14 have been chosen as the class of 2014’s student commencement speakers.

Nominated by their fellow seniors in January, Bologna and Block were informed of their selection Friday, following a final audition last Wednesday. Bologna and Block were selected out of about 100 nominees who submitted writing samples for consideration.

Bologna, a Brown tour guide and managing editor for post-Magazine, focused her speech on the themes of “finding identity at Brown, what Brown identity means over the four years, and how it evolves,” she said. Her speech centers on the “idea of labels.” For inspiration, Bologna reflected on her first year and how both she and her peers have changed since then, she said.

Bologna gave the valedictory address at her high school graduation, an experience which has helped calm her nerves, she said.

“When I received the email saying I was nominated amongst hundreds of other students, I figured, ‘Why not?’” Bologna said. “I always say, if you don’t have a tangible excuse not to do something, you should probably do it.”

Block, tour program coordinator and a former captain of Brown’s mock trial team, attributed his decision to speak at commencement to his passion for public speaking and general love for Brown, he said. His speech emphasizes the “value of promoting a culture of healthy controversy” and advises his younger classmates on how to sustain this culture post-graduation.

“There’s a reason we’re both tour guides, and that’s because we both love meeting people, we love talking to people about what makes Brown unique,” Block said. “It’s an honor that the two of us were chosen. And we’re not speaking for the class. We’re speaking from our own experiences, and hopefully people take something away from that.”

The selection process began in January when seniors received an email explaining the nomination process, Bologna said. Each student could make two nominations, she said. Nominees who wanted to compete for the honor had to submit an outline of their potential speech, and after the approximately 100 writing samples were reviewed, several students were chosen to audition in front of a panel of deans, faculty members and fellow students.

As the selected speakers, Bologna and Block will be making small edits to their already completed six-minute speeches, Bologna said. Besenia Rodriguez, associate dean of the College for undergraduate research, Barbara Tannenbaum, senior lecturer in theater arts and performance studies, and other faculty members provided the two speakers with feedback, Bologna said.

“When I saw Tannenbaum there on the panel, I knew so many things I needed to do because I had been to a lecture she had given on public speaking,” Bologna said. “So I was immediately like, power stance, make eye contact with everyone. I think that helped me as far as the audition process.”

“They were both incredibly receptive to feedback we provided throughout the process, and their final speeches demonstrate their ability to incorporate constructive criticism in ways that felt authentic,” Rodriguez wrote in an email to The Herald.

Both Block and Bologna “did an excellent job of crafting speeches that both reflected on their individual journeys and experiences through Brown, while also speaking to larger themes that the committee thought would resonate well with the graduating class and the rest of the audience,” she wrote.

As Commencement approaches, the big day has spurred mixed feelings about leaving Brown, Block said. “It’s the perfect way to finish our time at Brown, being able to give the speech surrounded by friends, family and so many people who’ve had such an impact on us,” he said.

“It’s incredibly sad because we’re clearly in love with Brown, we’re cheerleaders for Brown,” Bologna said. “It’s definitely bittersweet.”


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