Ever To Excel

Finnegan Award winner shows a range in talent and 'more gray matter than just about anyone on campus'

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Boston College's motto, "Ever to Excel," could easily be the personal credo of Brian Soucek, '98, who has distinguished himself as a philosophy student, singer and community volunteer, and is the winner of the Rev. Edward H. Finnegan, SJ, Memorial Award as the graduate who best exemplifies excellence, humility and dedication to others.

A Presidential Scholar from Tulsa, Okla., Soucek's record of accomplishment at BC includes running the Boston Marathon on a whim, without training, and returning for a campus rehearsal of "The Pirates of Penzance" the same night. He also led the Boston College Chorale in accompanying country superstar Kenny Rogers at an area Christmas concert, and directed a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" that drew 1,000 people to three performances at St. Ignatius Church.

Soucek, an economics and philosophy major, performed equally well in the academic arena, compiling a 3.9 grade point average in the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program. For his Scholar of the College thesis, he combined aesthetics with economics for a cross-disciplinary study of how philosophical perceptions of art influence the fine art marketplace. He was a national finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship, and will enter Columbia University as a doctoral student in philosophy this fall.

His professors regard Soucek with an admiration bordering on awe. "Brian has more gray matter than just about anyone on campus, faculty included," said A&S Honors Program Director Mark O'Connor. "The convenient cliché for his style of mind is a 'laser intellect,' since Brian immediately cuts right to the heart of the matter."

But A&S Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, who nominated Soucek for the award, was particularly impressed by the Ignatian idealism underlying that intellect.

Brian Soucek, '98- "Everything you engage in will influence your life, which gives ethical responsibility to thought." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

"Brian belongs to the very select crowd of the most intellectually gifted," Barth said. "But more important is what a person does with talent. Our University challenges its graduates to be women and men for others, and Brian Soucek is such a man. He is wonderfully catholic and Catholic, the embodiment of what this Jesuit institution should be about."

Interviewed recently, Soucek described his devotion to the arts and its importance to his academic and spiritual life.

"Art has to have some social context," said Soucek, son of an accountant and a hospice nurse. "Art for art's sake? That's like being a talented concert pianist who only practices and never performs.

"In a sense, what I'm thinking about or working on should have some relevance to life," he said, "so that I'm not endlessly practicing - and never performing."

Soucek served as president of the Boston College Chorale, traveling on concert trips to Ireland, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Rome, where the group performed for the pope.

"It's just a joyful thing," Soucek said of his music. "It's like playing a sport. It's that sort of team effort, but the result of it is much more for others. Music is much like what the University tries to do well. At Boston College, there is an emphasis on bringing the results of your work here to other people. That's what goes on in music."

As a Presidential Scholar, Soucek spent his summers volunteering at two Boston shelters, working at the New York Stock Exchange, taking a month-long trip through France, and studying in Berlin on an Advanced Study Grant from Boston College. This spring he delivered the Presidential Scholar address at the Boston College Tribute Dinner in New York City.

After traveling through Europe and teaching economics at a children's summer camp, Soucek will begin his studies at Columbia under a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities. He hopes to bring an emphasis on the greater good to his research in aesthetics, or the philosophy of art.

"Everything you engage in will influence your life, which gives ethical responsibility to thought," said Soucek, explaining his interest in a discipline he acknowledges other philosophers tend to regard as "frothy."

"Even if no one reads my dissertation, I am looking forward to teaching," he added, with a smile. "I get excited about the things I study, and I like encouraging other people to listen to the things I'm excited about."

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