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Finding Her Way Home

Student speaker captures the spirit that drew her back to BU

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Monica Narang (CAS’11), who will give the student address at Sunday’s Commencement, says her biggest fear is her tassel hitting her in the face while speaking. Photo by Vernon Doucette

As Monica Narang read her Commencement speech in the George Sherman Union last week, Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore ran about shouting instructions (“pause,” “smile more,” “hold your hands up”)—in part, advising the student speaker, but mostly trying to distract her.

“Next, he wants to find rooms with lots of activity, where conferences are being set up and people are moving around tables, and have me practice my speech there,” says Narang (CAS’11), who will deliver the student address at Boston University’s 138th Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 22.

With thousands of potential distractions on Nickerson Field, including the amplified echo of her own voice and a closed-circuit monitor just inches away, Narang would seem to have her work cut out for her. But the Birmingham, Ala., native says she’s not nervous, more worried about her mortarboard tassel smacking her in the face while she’s speaking.

“The speech was really easy for me to write, because it says in a pretty straightforward way how I feel about BU,” says Narang, who just won the English department’s undergraduate Albert Gilman Shakespeare Prize. “I just wrote it the way I talk, so I feel like I’m just talking honestly when I give it. It just happens to be an honest talk with tens of thousands of people.”

Each spring, graduating seniors with a minimum 3.5 grade point average or a personal recommendation from a dean are invited to submit a potential Commencement address to a faculty committee. Narang’s essay was chosen from more than 20 submissions, and she beat out 6 other finalists, all of whom had to deliver the speech in a mock commencement setting. The passion and pride of Narang’s words clearly moved the judges.

“Monica captured the spirit and substance of this place, its faculty, staff, and student experiences, with lots of heart and a good bit of humor, too,” says Elmore (SED’87).

Narang, who plans to attend BU’s School of Law in the fall, has an unusual viewpoint. During her sophomore year, she transferred to Colorado College, but then reapplied to BU her junior year. “The mountains were great; they’re gorgeous,” she says, but she found herself pining for Boston. “I missed the T. I didn’t think I’d ever miss the T.”

That’s when she crossed paths with Nancy Baker, special assistant to the president. The two women became close friends. Baker is also a member of the student speaker selection committee. She remembered Narang’s heartfelt essays on the personal issues that prompted her to wander off to Colorado and what led her back to BU. Baker urged her to submit a speech. She wasn’t disappointed.

“The selection committee was impressed by the substance of her remarks, and her perspective, humor, and great eloquence,” Baker says. “After all, she’s an English major.”

“The fact that I went away to school somewhere else and came back gave me a really good comparison point,” Narang says. “That’s really what the speech is about: what’s special about BU, the universal things we’ve all gained. It isn’t about me or what advice I can give or how I can inspire my fellow graduates. It’s about what we all learned from BU. It’s also a chance to thank the BU community for teaching us all these lessons.”

When asked for her fondest campus memories, Narang pauses and looks up, as if there are too many images swirling overhead. Growing up in ice-free Alabama, she recalls her first Terrier hockey game.

“I called my little brother and said, ‘I think hockey might be cooler than college football,’” Narang says. “And to say that anything is better than SEC football is a sin in the South.”

She pointed to other highlights: her “really cool professors,” the Red Sox winning the World Series her first year in Boston, and Elmore’s fundraising plunge into the Charles River after Senior Breakfast. But simple moments stand out, too, such as her dinners at Myles.

“At least once a week, we would all go around the table and say something we learned that week,” Narang recalls. “Sometimes people shared cool facts from a class or celebrity gossip or a tip on how to do something or where a new cool coffee place was. I’m not a big fan of the dining halls or the BU meal plans, but I loved those dinners, because in a school with over 30,000 students it was a good reminder that I still had a little family of friends.”

After law school, Narang plans to pursue public interest law, perhaps in the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, where she interned last summer. But for now, with thousands looking on, including her parents, brother, and cousin, her focus is on climbing the stairs to the stage at Nickerson Field without stumbling.

“It was so funny to hear Dean Elmore tell me not to wear heels, that people overestimate the steps and trip,” Narang says. “I was going to wear heels, but not anymore.”

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Finding Her Way Home

  • Anonymous on 05.19.2011 at 5:26 am

    CONFLICT OF INTEREST??

    “That’s when she crossed paths with Nancy Baker, special assistant to the president. The two women became close friends. Baker is also a member of the student speaker selection committee.”

  • Anonymous on 05.19.2011 at 10:34 am

    Changing Requirements?

    “Each spring, graduating seniors with a minimum 3.5 grade point average or a personal recommendation from a dean are invited to submit a potential Commencement address to a faculty committee.”

    It used to be that, you must have a 3.5 GPA or higher to give this speech, and that you must submit it by the deadline. Now you can get a personal recommendation to override the other requirements.

    Why bother having a competition at all if the administration is just going to pick whoever they want to give the speech anyway?

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