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Lynch School of Education Senior Gets Top Commencement Honor

05/23/13
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Finnegan Award winner Claire Geruson, second from left, with the other award finalists: (L-R) Corey Streitwieser, Sandra Dickson and John “Marty” Long. (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: May 23, 2013

During Monday’s Commencement Exercises, Lynch School of Education graduating senior Claire Geruson was presented with the 2013 Rev. Edward H. Finnegan, SJ, Memorial Award — Boston College’s most prestigious graduation honor, given to the student who best exemplifies the spirit of BC’s motto, “Ever to Excel.”

Geruson, a Jenkintown, Pa., native who majored in elementary education and theology, devoted her four years at Boston College to the values of justice and community, which were instilled in her at a young age.

Since she was a second-grader, Geruson has been involved in the ministry of St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, which provides meals, companionship, food baskets, toiletries and other necessities for the poor and hungry. Once in high school, Geruson’s outreach to St. Francis expanded to include two-week stays at the inn over the summer. The inn also combats another issue often found hand-in-hand with poverty: loneliness.

“There is not a divide between those serving and those being served,” said Geruson. “I have great relationships not only with the other volunteers and people who work at St. Francis, but also with the guests. It is one of my favorite places in the world.”

Geruson brought her commitment to St. Francis Inn to Boston College: During her sophomore year, she organized and led a spring break service trip there with eight BC students.

Geruson’s sense of justice extends to her focus on the education and socialization of children with special needs. She was greatly influenced by the experience of growing up with her cousin, Erik, who was born with cerebral palsy and is blind and nonverbal. Back in Pennsylvania, she has worked as a home health aide for several children with special needs and volunteered as a swim coach for Special Olympics. At the BC Campus School, she has been a reading buddy for students with severe special needs.

Many of her student teaching experiences involved pupils with special needs. Geruson worked with an autistic student at the Baker School in Brookline, was a teacher’s aide in a classroom with students with severe special needs at the Kennedy Day School in Brighton, and adapted lesson plans for English Language Learners and students with special needs at the Jackson Mann School in Allston. At the Haley Pilot School in Roslindale, she created an interactive workshop involving Braille and American Sign Language to increase the student body’s understanding of students with special needs.

In her letter nominating Geruson, LSOE Assistant Dean Audrey Friedman wrote: “Her infectious smile, spiritual nature, and genuine compassion immediately assure others that she has come to help, to give selflessly, and to make an ostensible difference in their lives.”

Geruson has fostered a sense of community on the BC campus. She was a four-year member of Campus Ministry’s Cura, a faith-sharing community of students focused on prayer and personal faith development. During her sophomore and junior years, Geruson was a Cura leader, running retreats and serving as a peer counselor, and this year helped to oversee the program as a member of the Cura council. She also has served as a sacristan, lector and Eucharistic minister at campus liturgies. In addition, she was as a co-facilitator and leader for the Spectrum Weekend, a retreat for GLBTQ students.

Earlier this year, Geruson co-led Campus Ministry’s two-week Arrupe Immersion trip to El Salvador. The participants visited San Salvador and the rural community of El Ocotillo and learned about issues affecting people in the region, such as trade, post-war transition, human rights, health and education. El Salvador also was the destination for Geruson’s semester abroad during her junior year. Under the aegis of the Casa de la Solidaridad, she completed coursework and conducted volunteer service in a community kitchen and school.

Geruson was honored by the University with the 2012 Welles Remy Crowther Award in recognition of her selfless sacrifice and determination in serving the needs of others.

Asked what she will miss about Boston College, Geruson said, “The people. I will miss my friends, my teachers. I will miss everyone at Campus Ministry — they have been mentors to me. [Campus Minister] Fr. Don MacMillan, SJ, is the best priest I’ve ever met — no, the best adult. His advice has helped me so much.”

Geruson has joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph Mission Corps and this fall will begin a one-year volunteer commitment as a special education teacher at St. Anthony School in Camden, NJ.

Other 2013 Finnegan Award finalists:

   • Corey Streitwieser, West Haven, Conn., classics: excelled at advanced level Greek and Latin courses, though he had taken neither language before BC; Undergraduate Research Fellow, assisting Classics Assistant Professor Kendra Eshleman with preparations for her book; published two articles in undergraduate research journal Elements; received two Advanced Study Grants for intensive Latin and Sanskrit language acquisition and for the study of Plato; gave presentations for BC Talks, BC Splash and the Undergraduate Research Symposiums; tutor at the Connors Family Learning Center.

   • John “Marty” Long, Marietta, Ga., finance and Hispanic Studies: Presidential Scholar; winningest male diver in BC history; received BC’s 2012 Athletic Leadership Award and ACC Weaver-James-Corrigan Postgraduate Scholarship; involved in Big Brother Big Sister Foundation of Boston, making weekly visits to his “little brother”; traveled last summer to Brazil, where he taught English to children from low-income families.

   • Sandra Dickson, Newark, NJ, nursing: 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship winner; Undergraduate Research Fellow for Connell School of Nursing Assistant Professor Allyssa Harris, with whom she co-presented at the annual meeting of National Black Nurses Association; member of AHANA Leadership Council and 48 Hours program; works as a clinical care assistant at Boston Children’s Hospital; selected last summer as a Hausman Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital.