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Fiorentino ’24: A guide to keeping Brown’s spirit with you

The local legend says that if you drink from the fountain outside the Athanæum, you will never leave College Hill. Brown poet and Professor Keith Waldrop once told Robert Arellano ’91 MA’94 that this legend was originally pronounced by Edgar Allan Poe after he was dumped by lifelong Providence resident Sarah Helen Whitman in the 1800s.

Upon discovering this, the first thing that I did was enjoy a long gulp from the fountain. I was a sophomore transfer with three years ticking before me, and, like so many of us, I wished for my time at Brown to last forever, even at the cost of joining Josiah S. Carberry as another friendly ghost.

Over the past few years, I have come to redefine what it means for me to never depart from Brown. I realized that a person can carry a place in their heart long after leaving because I keep my hometown of Palermo, Sicily within me every day.

As surreal as it feels, the day has come for us, the class of 2024, to depart from our beloved undergraduate life. I am thrilled to present a guide on how to remain connected to the essence of Brown long after crossing through the Van Wickle gates. Through these words, I intend to transmute my nostalgia into an action-oriented and ever-growing love for Brown.

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If I were to define Brown, I would say it is far more than an institution. I believe that the essence of Brown is a poem: our experiences on this campus are timeless and intangible, but they will remain alive within our hearts for the rest of our lives. The poem of Brown is written by all of our voices. Each of us shares something intangible that brought us together here today through countless challenges. We are brought to this guide’s rule #1: trust your unique voice and speak from your heart even when your voice trembles. I remember the first time that I decided to share my poetry at an open mic overlooking the Main Green. 

As a transfer student adjusting to a foreign language, I peered at the sea of unfamiliar faces anxiously. But looking up at the tessellation of Main Green branches, I remembered that I had trusted Brown to be a space for our collective self-expression. I will never forget the sight of my peers cheering me on with genuine joy. It was then that I learned what it means to let people into my heart, the key to finding a home thousands of miles away from Sicily. Shoutout to you, class of 2024, for showing up for each other’s most vulnerable selves for the past four years. May we internalize this uplifting energy and continue to express our authentic voices in the next stage of our lives.

In COST 1020: “Neuroscience of Meditation,” as we were learning about the neural correlates of anxiety, we also examined fear through a Buddhist perspective. Professor Sara Lazar told us to view fear as a temporary guest rather than as a part of us. I practiced this idea through daily meditations that became easier as I gradually developed acceptance of uncomfortable feelings. Eventually, I stopped viewing fear as an obstacle to progress. This was one of the greatest lessons of my Brown career. It is also rule #2: no matter how much fear you may feel in the future, remember that it will never define you.

On the topic of fear, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge how courageous you have all been to become independent architects of your own education through the Open Curriculum. There are few things in life scarier than the freedom to make an important choice, and you have all successfully traversed the uncertain, developing your own autodidactic judgment. You should be extremely proud of yourselves, class of 2024. Let’s take this moment to thank our families here today for their unrelenting support, kindness, and love. We wouldn’t be here without your lifelong guidance. Let us also acknowledge the precious support of our mentors: our professors, advisors, deans and staff members at Brown for taking us seriously and believing in our potential. E un omaggio a Palermo, che ti ho nell’anima.

The exploratory nature of the Open Curriculum has taught me to challenge myself to dig beyond discomfort in my academic pursuits. For instance, in writing my honors thesis in poetry, I confessed to my advisor, Senior Lecturer in Literary Arts Gale Nelson: “I feel like I’ve been subconsciously imitating my favorite poets — I don’t know if I’ve found my voice yet.” He calmly responded: “Giordana, that takes a lifetime to learn. Focus on writing. The rest will come from the process.” I will cherish these words years from now, bringing us to rule #3: May the Open Curriculum inspire within us love for lifelong learning and trust in the process, even in the face of uncertainty. Think about the unimaginable ways in which we are yet to grow as scholars, leaders, and inventors. The poem of Brown is nowhere near finished.

I realize that I cannot picture Brown without its fiercely passionate students fighting for a better world. What would the Main Green be without your voices calling for a more equitable, accessible, and climate-conscious world? My first professor at Brown, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Larson DiFiori, once told me: you must create your vision of the world and share it. As a sophomore, I felt uncertain, but those words took root in my mind, nourished by the campus’s vibrant student activity. I soon began to devote myself to building a world in which the women around me were protected from domestic and sexual violence. During my presidency of the Brown Women’s Collective, we established a monthly volunteering, educational, and fundraising program with Sojourner House, a nonprofit that supports survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We also led a demonstration on the Main Green to bring awareness to the femicide of Giulia Checchettin and called for systemic change through Italia@Brown, the student organization that I co-founded to share Italian culture and current events with our community. This leads us to rule #4: in the years to come, continue to devote yourself to a greater cause which brings tears to your eyes.

I am honored to be graduating alongside this brilliant, kind, and inquisitive class. In the journey of realizing our dreams, let us never forget the curious, idealistic, and open-hearted teenagers we were when we first stepped foot on this campus. As long as we maintain our innate spirit of enthusiasm for knowledge and free inquiry which drew us to Brown, our minds and hearts will remain luminous.

I will conclude with a final thought. In homage to Waldo G. Leland, class of 1900, I will recite his poem that I discovered in my exploration of a 1900 yearbook. Many students and I have sworn that it still rings true.

College Days at Brown
Time of our truest endeavor,
Time of our greatest schemes,
Time of our greatest sorrows,
Time of our dearest dreams,
Scene of our happiest moments, Scene of fate’s smile and frown; Time and scene of the best we love – Our college days at Brown.

Giordana Fiorentino is a graduating senior in Brown's class of 2024.

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