Caroline Bologna ’14 and Josh Block ’14 — both tour guides who expressed passion for that which makes Brown special — will serve as the class of 2014’s student commencement speakers.
Nominated by fellow seniors in January to vie for the two speaker slots, about 100 students submitted writing samples for consideration. Bologna and Block were informed of their selection following a final audition in April.
Bologna, a Brown tour guide and managing editor for Post- Magazine, will focus her speech on the themes of “finding identity at Brown, what Brown identity means over the four years, and how it evolves,” she said. Her speech centers on the “idea of labels.” For inspiration, Bologna reflected on her first year and how both she and her peers have changed since then, she said.
Bologna delivered the valedictory address at her high school graduation, an experience that has helped prepare her, she said.
“When I received the email saying I was nominated amongst hundreds of other students, I figured, ‘Why not?’” Bologna said. “If you don’t have a tangible excuse not to do something, you should probably do it.”
Block, tour program coordinator and a former captain of Brown’s mock trial team, attributed his desire to speak at commencement to his passion for public speaking and general love for Brown. His speech emphasizes the “value of promoting a culture of healthy controversy” and advises his classmates on how to sustain this culture after graduation.
“There’s a reason we’re both tour guides, and that’s because we both love meeting people. We love talking to people about what makes Brown unique,” Block said.
To prepare for commencement, Bologna and Block have made small edits to their six-minute speeches and incorporated feedback from Besenia Rodriguez, associate dean of the College for undergraduate research, Barbara Tannenbaum, senior lecturer in theater arts and performance studies, and other faculty members, Bologna said.
“When I saw Tannenbaum there on the panel, I knew so many things I needed to do because I had been to a lecture she had given on public speaking,” Bologna said. “So I was immediately like, power stance, make eye contact with everyone.”
“They were both incredibly receptive to feedback we provided throughout the process, and their final speeches demonstrate their ability to incorporate constructive criticism in ways that felt authentic,” Rodriguez wrote in an email to The Herald.
Both Block and Bologna “did an excellent job of crafting speeches that both reflected on their individual journeys and experiences through Brown, while also speaking to larger themes that the committee thought would resonate well with the graduating class and the rest of the audience,” she wrote.
The approach of Commencement has spurred mixed feelings about leaving Brown, Block said. “It’s the perfect way to finish our time at Brown, being able to give the speech surrounded by friends, family and so many people who’ve had such an impact on us,” he said.
“We’re not speaking for the class. We’re speaking from our own experiences, and hopefully people take something away from that,” he added.
“It’s incredibly sad, because we’re clearly in love with Brown, we’re cheerleaders for Brown,” Bologna said. “It’s definitely bittersweet.”