Little, Nameless, Unremembered Acts

Michael Hagan ’15

I’m a public schoolboy. I went to an elementary school named for an old farming village, a middle school posthumously named after the founder of my high school, and a high school named for my town. Where I’m from, things are rarely named for anything other than the schools they serve unless they are dedicated posthumously in memory of great members of the community or tragically lost friends. The school belongs to the community; there are no special distinctions to be bought or sold.

Perhaps this is why I have an aversion to the practice of naming buildings, venues, scholarships, events, or really anything after their benefactors. I’ll readily admit that this aversion is probably to a fault; some of the greatest contributions to society have been made through philanthropy, and I cannot blame anyone for desiring to be remembered for generous giving. Every time I walk through the doors of a building named for its benefactor, though, I think to myself- is the promotion of one’s own legacy the best function for the name above this entrance? Is it not in greater accord with the values of the Church and Providence College to, in thanksgiving, honor a person, event, or principle that helped the benefactor reach a position from which he or she is able to make a such a monumental contribution (as many buildings at PC are)? Is it not more enriching to let God keep the glory, and to root one‘s legacy instead in what William Wordsworth called “the best moment’s of a good man’s life- his little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love?”

Don’t confuse my discomfort with some philanthropic practices for ingratitude. I am deeply grateful for the facilities we use, the endowed scholarship I receive, and the new humanities center that will house many of my classes. I do, however, take grievance with the tit-for-tat donor relations approach the administration openly flaunts. It is unsettling that Fr. Shanley does not hesitate to share, “I ask people everywhere I go- do you want to give millions of dollars and get your name on the school of business?” I respect the right of donors to style their gifts in the manner they choose, but if Providence College truly operates on the values it advertises, it should not degrade Friars of any station in life by assuming they believe their own legacy to be more worthy of remembrance than any one of the remarkable human or spiritual individuals, events, or principles that helped them build it.

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One thought on “Little, Nameless, Unremembered Acts

  1. Interesting thoughts. If you look at one of the more recently completed buildings, the Smith Center, you can see that it is only a fairly recent trend to shift from naming buildings in honor of Dominicans who gave their life to the College, to giving those who gave their wallet to the College. Disturbing, but sadly not at all unique anywhere in higher ed…

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