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Students Look to Explore Meaning of ‘Boston Strong’

Sophomores Lucas Allen and Catherine Larrabee at the Boston Marathon finish line replica constructed as part of the Presidential Scholars Program’s “Boston Strong” project. (Photo courtesy Presidential Scholars Program)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Oct. 31, 2013

Since the Boston Marathon tragedy this spring, the phrase “Boston Strong” has emerged as a rallying call. But what does it mean to be “Boston Strong”? Sophomores in the Boston College Presidential Scholars Program have launched a project to find out.

“I ran the 2013 Boston Marathon and finished a couple of minutes before the bombings. This project is a way of responding and paying tribute,” said Presidential Scholar Dan Lundberg, a biology and philosophy major from Orono, Minn., who is interested in disability rights.

The Boston Marathon is more than a sporting event. Of the more than 23,000 runners who compete, many do so in support of charitable causes. In this way, say Lundberg and his fellow 2016 Presidential Scholars, the marathon functions as a social justice mechanism by supporting the agents that serve to make Boston strong.

According to Lundberg, this summer when the Presidential Scholars undertook their service and social justice projects in the city of Boston, the topic of the marathon tragedy was at the forefront of conversation. But many of those leading and working at social service agencies in Boston were not feeling the sentiment behind the phrase “Boston Strong” or its ideal that Boston is a city that takes care of its own, said Lundberg.

“There is trauma and injustice everyday in the lives of the marginalized.” 

When the Presidential Scholars gathered at the start of the academic year to determine their Sophomore Social Justice Project, their experiences from the summer informed their direction. They are producing a publication, The Heart of This City: Boston Strong and Becoming Stronger, set for release next April, the first anniversary of the marathon bombings.

According to project organizers, the publication will “seek to capture untold stories about individuals and agencies who make Boston strong by improving the lives and opportunities of others within our city and to demonstrate how their missions have interfaced through the marathon. We are then examining the most serious social justice issues facing our community today and how we must address them if we are to become stronger and maintain this commitment of taking care of one another.”

To that end, the student organizers set up a Boston Marathon finish line replica on the Gasson Quad to engage members of the BC community in the question of what makes Boston strong. Students, faculty and staff have written responses on ribbons and tied them to the adjacent barricade fence. These exchanges are online as well via the group’s website,, which asks virtual visitors to submit their response to what makes Boston strong. Responses will appear on the website and in the publication.

On Oct. 29, the scholars organized an event called “Boston Strong and Becoming Stronger: A Conversation about the Heart of This City,” an interactive panel that focused on the meaning of Boston Strong and the identity of Boston. Panelists were: Dave Fortier, a runner who was injured in the first explosion; Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki, who was working at the Boston Marathon finish line; Boston Herald chief reporter Dave Wedge, writer of the upcoming book and film, “Boston Strong”; Kathe McKenna, executive director of Haley House, a Boston-based nonprofit; Philosophy Assistant Professor Aspen Brinton, who teaches courses in BC’s PULSE program, and, via a pre-taped video interview, 2013 Boston College alumna Brittany Loring, who was injured in the explosions.