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Alem Wins Fr. Joyce Award

05/24/12
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Feven Alem shown at the ceremony where she received the Seavey Joyce, SJ, Award, calls her father "No. 1 role model." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Reid Oslin | Chronicle Staff

Published: May 24, 2012

In her native Ethiopia, Feven Alem’s first name is translated as “God’s Gift.” Already, the newly minted graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences has more than fulfilled that endearing appellation.

After contributing countless hours of volunteer service on campus, in her church and in the greater Boston community during her four undergraduate years, Alem was selected as recipient of the University’s second annual W. Seavey Joyce, SJ, Award for Service and Citizenship. The award, which includes a $5,000 stipend to support the recipient’s post-graduate civic engagement, was presented last Friday by representatives from the University’s Offices of Campus Ministry and the Volunteer and Service Learning Center.

Yesterday, Alem returned to Ethiopia to participate in the Millennium Cities Initiative project, an effort to connect academic and cultural interests with social justice. Alem will work with young girls in the region, teaching them English and urging them to remain in school instead of entering into the traditional early marriage.

Alem says she will use the Joyce Award stipend to cover travel and living expenses while working in Ethiopia. She plans to donate any funds left over at the end of her volunteer term to the organization so her work can continue.

Alem’s road to Boston College was a unique one. Her father, Alem Kahsay, was a world-class marathoner who represented Ethiopia in elite running competitions around the world. “He came to America and decided that our lives would be better if he could bring his family here,” she says. “Unfortunately, my mother became sick and died and I travelled to America by myself. I was only six years old at the time, and my father was not even able to meet me when I arrived at the airport. He had left New York to run in a big race in Australia, but he had friends meet me and take care of me when I arrived.”

Her dad eventually retired from the world marathon circuit and accepted a staff position with the famed New York Road Runners Club. He raised his daughter in the Harlem section of the city and sent her to St. Jean Baptiste High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Manhattan.

At St. Jean Baptiste, Alem started getting involved in service activities. “Sacrificing for others has a lot to do with my own background,” she says. “I had seen the lives that my cousins, aunts and uncles were living in Ethiopia. My Dad was able to escape from that, but then he sacrificed his whole life for me. I learned what sacrifice means from my Dad. He’s my No. 1 role model.”

Another mentor in her life was Sister Peggy, a nun in the Congregation of Notre Dame who was the school librarian at St. Jean’s. “She was everything for me,” Alem says. “She helped me get through high school and then she was the one who motivated me to go to Boston College. I was deciding between BC, Georgetown, Wesleyan and Boston University, and she kept pushing me to BC.”

Once she got to Chestnut Hill, Alem became involved in a whirlwind of service activities in addition to her studies in sociology and communication: the African Students Organization; Black Student Forum; PULSE program; tutoring in Boston’s Bird Street Community Center; volunteering in a food pantry project at Michael Orthodox Church; and raising money for an education and counseling program for orphans in her native Ethiopia.

“Feven was so passionate and so enthusiastic about going back to Ethiopia,” says VLSC Associate Director Kate Daly, a member of the Joyce Award selection committee. “She had some great plans and had really researched the programs that she wanted to be involved in.”

Alem hopes to go to graduate school and perhaps work for the United Nations — “something of a humanitarian nature,” she says. “I have many goals.”