Finnegan Award winner Elizabeth O'Day is flanked by Finnegan nominees Michael Dixon and Stephanie Bronner. The fourth nominee, Christine Pherson, is not pictured.
An Honor to End All Honors
Finnegan Award is the crowning achievement for BC seniors
By Sean Smith
Winning the Rev. Edward Finnegan, SJ, Award is the ultimate honor for a Boston College senior - but just being nominated for it feels pretty good, too.
Elizabeth O'Day, a biochemistry major from Braintree, Mass., who spearheaded "Women in Science & Technology" (WST), a program aimed at spurring high school girls' interest in science, was selected for this year's award as the senior who exemplifies the University's motto, "Ever to Excel."
O'Day describes winning the honor as "an overwhelming and humbling experience," and adds, "I will not take the responsibility it brings lightly. BC has been pivotal in my development, and as I go off to whatever lies ahead of me I will bring with me everything I learned here. Whether I am in England, India or in Boston I hope to make BC proud, and remember the motto 'Ever to Excel.'"
For Michael Dixon, a Finnegan candidate from the Carroll School of Management, being considered for the top Commencement prize along with the likes of O'Day felt like an accomplishment in and of itself.
"I was floored by the nomination," says Dixon, a Presidential Scholar from Birmingham, Mich. "I read all about Liz and her work with WST, and the fact of being associated with her was amazing to me. When you're at BC, you meet so many people who do so much for the school, and for the community; I could pick so many friends who are deserving of consideration for the Finnegan Award. [See sidebar].
"Being nominated just makes me all the more proud of the people I've gone to school with."
The other Finnegan nominees this year were Connell School of Nursing senior Christina Pherson of Erie, Pa., and Stephanie Bronner, a Mohnton, Pa., native in the Lynch School of Education.
Administrators involved in the Finnegan Award selection process say the scope of and criteria for the honor are intended to make it a more meaningful, enduring achievement than a generic "outstanding senior" prize.
"The Finnegan Award is an expression of Boston College's values and ideals, personified in the young men and women we send out into the world every year," says Assistant to the President Rose Mary Donahue. "It is extremely difficult to narrow the field of candidates to four - one representing each undergraduate school - let alone pick one from so many talented, service-minded students.
"But we believe that the Finnegan Award should be more than a plaque on a wall, or a line on a resume. It's something to take to heart, and perhaps a source of inspiration for more achievements."
Brian Soucek, the 1998 Finnegan Award winner, agrees. "I think it's telling that BC reserves its highest student honor for someone who excels not just academically, but as a person. By now I've taught at schools that are very good at pushing their students intellectually, but which don't always see their job as going much beyond that.
"BC wants to, and I think does, have a far broader effect on its students," says Soucek, now on the University of Chicago faculty. "The winners of the Finnegan Award are a great example of that."
Pherson, for one, views her Finnegan Award nomination in a broader context. "I would not consider myself among an elite few that exemplify the kind of student that Boston College wants to send out into the world.
"Rather, I think I serve as a representative for the many people who have so much to offer the world. I embody the characteristics of people who I have met during my years at BC, the knowledge from more experienced professors, and the values I have gotten from my family.
"Nominating me is not nominating only one person; it is nominating everyone who has influenced the person who I have become."
Bronner sounds a similar theme. "I consider myself nothing but a collection of ways others have graciously and generously invested in me. A primary ideal with which I leave Boston College is the necessity for inclusiveness. I believe that living the gospel cannot be focused on exclusion of any sort, for this is essentially casting judgment where none is due.
"I am immensely grateful to the large number of guides I have found on this campus: They have shown me that all situations and environments call for an unhesitating love. This community has filled me with light, and thus with courage to believe."