Lanigan Wins Top Commencement Honor

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

When she arrived on campus four years ago, Jennifer Lanigan vowed she would not pack her schedule with extracurricular activities as she had during high school.

"I said, 'Not again. I'm just going to go to classes and be a normal kid,'" Lanigan recalled with a laugh during a recent interview.

But within two weeks, Lanigan was serving as secretary of the School of Education student senate and mentoring children in a Boston elementary school. The rest of her Boston College career proved similarly productive and it earned her the Edward H. Finnegan, SJ, Memorial Award, given annually at Commencement Exercises to the graduate who best exemplifies the qualities of excellence, humility and dedication to others. It is the highest honor awarded to a graduating senior.

Finnegan Award winner Jennifer Lanigan-"I've known a lot of success in my four years here. I would not have done that if I did not have the foundation my family helped build, and the support of faculty and friends here at BC."(Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

A Manchester, NH, native who entered BC through the Presidential Scholars Program, Lanigan spurred many classmates to join her in local volunteer efforts. She excelled at her studies as a major in elementary education and French and, as one of the University's Fulbright Scholars, will spend next year teaching in France. Lanigan has done it all, faculty and friends say, with remarkable humility and matchless joie de vivre .

"Jennifer indeed embodies the spirit and the heart of the Finnegan Award," said Assoc. Prof. Penny Hauser-Cram (SOE), one of several faculty members and administrators who nominated Lanigan for the coveted prize.

"No other student I have taught has succeeded like Jennifer in uniting academic excellence, intellectual commitment and dedication to community, " said Assoc. Prof. Ourida Mostefai (Romance Languages), another sponsor.

"I've known a lot of success in my four years here," Lanigan said. "I would not have done that if I did not have the foundation my family helped build, and the support of faculty and friends here at BC."

A member of the SOE Honors Program who made the Dean's List each semester, Lanigan twice won the French Book Prize for superior performance in French, among other academic achievements. As a coordinator of the Boston Partners in Education program, Lanigan recruited about 60 of her fellow students to serve as mentors to Boston schoolchildren. She also formed a group of volunteers who worked regularly at a Boston homeless shelter and tutored kindergarten and middle school students.

Next month, Lanigan will act as an interpreter for a group of undergraduate Presidential Scholars on a study abroad trip in France, where she spent the 1995-96 academic year as a student teacher. That experience helped her develop a level of proficiency in French that Mostefai says is unusual for a college student.

Lanigan's hard work and taste for international travel surfaced early. She delivered newspapers and saved the bulk of her earnings for college. At 14, Parade Magazine named her a News Carrier of the Year and sent her to Italy with 150 other winners . She continued her rigorous schedule in high school, cultivating a strong academic record while serving as co-editor of the school newspaper and captain of the varsity cheerleading squad. Helping care for her ill grandfather, which Lanigan describes as "the formative event of my adolescence," inspired her to volunteer at a local nursing home.

Lanigan credits her interest in service to the example set by her parents: Her mother is a job training counselor for at-risk teens; her father is a community development representative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

One of Lanigan's most powerful experiences at Boston College was volunteering at a state-run holding center for teenage girls. "I'm positive they taught me more than I taught them," she said. "They taught me about humanity, about dignity and about using the gifts I've been given."

Looking for similar challenges as she begins "a pattern of being adventurous," Lanigan said she relishes the opportunity to spend the next academic year teaching in France.

"I consider teaching a calling," Lanigan said. "I'll go anywhere, but it has to be with an eye toward service. I know that I want to be with children."

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