Boston College's most prestigious undergraduate honor, the Edward H. Finnegan, SJ, award, is given each year to a student with exemplary promise—the member of the Class of 2016 who best represents BC's "Ever to Excel" credo. At graduation, this award is presented to a student who thrives academically, pursues a variety of passions through extracurriculars, and is engaged in social justice in the world around him or her.
Chosen from a pool of outstanding seniors, this year's Finnegan Award winner was Marissa Marandola, a Political Science major and American Studies and Management and Leadership minor, as well as the MCAS Senior to Remember.
A Gabelli Presidential Scholar, Marandola has made her mark on BC since her arrival as a freshman, immediately becoming involved in a vast spread of activities and organizations.
"I started teaching and volunteering for BC Splash as a freshman and joined the e-board as a sophomore," she says. "I ran volunteer teacher recruitment and training as an executive board member."
Serving as a humanities editor of Elements during her first two years and the Editor-in-Chief during her junior and senior years, Marandola also found her niche there, as well as in the Liturgy Arts Group on campus, where she sang all four years.
"Looking back, I realize that the various ways I was involved at BC all connect to the ideas of access or community," she says. "LAG was the first organization I joined as a freshman. It remained important to my BC experience through Baccalaureate Mass partly because of the central role my Catholic faith plays in my life, but also because of the supportive community I found among my fellow members."
This idea of community seems to certainly be central to Marandola's growth throughout her collegiate years; she sought out community in each of her involvements, going on to translate her experiences into something greater and for a common good. After her freshman year, she volunteered at the Italian Home for Children and the Educational Development Group; she also worked as a peer tutor at the Connors Family Learning Center during her time at BC.
Marandola pursued a track of undergraduate research, as well, working as an Undergraduate Research Fellow with Professor David Hopkins in the Political Science department for three years. She also did shorter research projects on the side with Political Science Professor Kay Schlozman and Theology and BC Law Professor Cathleen Kaveny.
"The various research projects I [conducted] with faculty explored questions about how we define our American community and how we develop, incidentally or intentionally, rules of the game that exclude certain constituencies from political participation and voice," Marandola says. "The abundance of [resources] available to me at BC through my on-campus involvement caused me to realize that the strong support systems and opportunities that brought me to BC and allowed me to thrive in college were a privilege."
Regarding post-graduate plans, Marandola is heading to Harvard Law in the fall on the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship that she was awarded earlier this academic year. Her interest in law has been prevalent since freshman year, when she was awarded an Advanced Study Grant to fund her research into an establishment clause court case concerning public school prayer in her hometown.
Through the Truman Foundation's Summer Institute, she will be spending this summer in Washington, DC, working at the US Department of Labor Women's Bureau before starting at Harvard in the fall.
"After law school, I am planning to pursue a career in government, with a possible focus on either education or employment law issues," she says.
As far as her advice to incoming freshmen, Marandola urges students to come in with an open mind and a burning desire to "learn how to live."
"Approach your time at BC with 'Ever to Excel' in mind, but understanding that excellence in an external sense, defined by academic, athletic, or extracurricular achievement, is shallow if it is not accompanied by internal excellence--the constant and conscientious effort to know yourself well, to learn how to live," she says with a well-seasoned air of wisdom and experience. After all, as the Class of 2016's top student exemplifying BC's Jesuit values, Marandola certainly has had her own share of collegiate experience.
"Montaigne's 'Of Experience' is probably the most formative text I encountered during my time at BC," she says. "In it, he writes, 'There is nothing so beautiful and legitimate as to play the man well and properly, no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally.' The knowledge of how to live ought to be the goal of a Jesuit education, informed by discernment and an awareness of others."
Through her advice, Marandola certainly emphasizes the importance of garnering this particular type of "knowledge" from the college experience. On a final note, she offers a telling snippet of wisdom on how to truly be a man or woman for others in four years at BC.
"Pursue opportunities that challenge you, form relationships with faculty and friends that will endure for a lifetime, and, most importantly, enjoy the community here and all it has to offer," she says. "If you engage each day with an open mind and work honestly, with integrity, commitment, and passion, internal and external excellence will follow."