August 21, 2017

99 Reasons to Love Roy Peter Clark: Providence College Names Alumnus as Commencement Speaker

Photo courtesy of Public Affairs & Community Relations

by Katie Puzycki ’17 and Jacquelyn Kelley ’17

Editor-in-Chief and Associate Editor-in-Chief

You might define native New Yorker Roy Peter Clark as the writing coach of the country. With his expansive background and knowledge in the field, there would be no doubt as to why. Talking to him, you might also find something more, like that he knows how to tell a good story.

Clark, who was born on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1948, was raised on Long Island by his second generation Italian-Jewish immigrant family. Today, Clark’s name is well-recognized in both the literary and journalistic worlds. A product of Depression-era parents, Clark’s roots encouraged him in all aspects of life.

In 1970, he graduated from Providence College with a B.A. in English—four years later, his younger brother Vincent Clark followed in his footsteps by attending the College, and graduated in 1974. During his time at PC, Clark was a member of recognizable campus publications, including positions as editor of The Alembic, and as managing editor and writer for The Cowl.

The role didn’t come naturally at first though. Clark admits, “I was the worst editor in the history of The Cowl. I didn’t do any of the hard work [there]. I was not the managing editor. I mean, that was the title, but I was a columnist and editorial writer.” Not what you might expect from the man who now has a more than impressive record as an editor and journalist.

Clark has a lot more to credit PC for than just experience in his field of work. It is also the place where he met his wife, Karen, when she was working as a secretary in the alumni office in Harkins Hall. Little did Clark know that by being a student worker there, he would meet the love of his life. They married in the Guzman Chapel a year after he graduated, and Dr. Raymond Sickinger—now a professor of history at the College—sang at both his wedding and when they renewed their vows 20 years later, a testament to just some of the bonds that he made as a student here.

Clark did not always have this attachment to Providence College, though. “If I were to rewrite my résumé, one of the things that I think is interesting to me, something that I’ve just realized looking back, is that I never wound up being accepted either in my academic life, or work, to the place that I wanted to go, but I always wound up being at the place I needed to be. When I think about how different my life would have been if I had gotten accepted to Princeton, it’s kind of scary,” Clark stated.

We often hear of Providence as students, but we do not always consider the weight of the word, which is something that Clark has given more thought to, especially now. He is a firm believer that, “If you believe in Providence not just as the name of a school or place, but as a sort of metaphysical idea, then you can see how often God ‘writes straight with crooked lines.’”

More than 40 years after receiving his undergraduate degree, Clark has come full-circle, returning in May as the speaker of the 99th Commencement Exercises for the College.

When asked about his reaction to being named as this year’s speaker, Clark said, “When the call came, the news was broken to me that they wanted to give me an honorary degree and I said, ‘Wow. That’s so great.’ And then they said, ‘And we want you to be the commencement speaker.’ That was just like…I don’t know. I’ve never taken LSD, but it felt like some sort of flashback.” Clark believes that this opportunity is, in fact, a “greater honor than a Pulitzer Prize.”

It seems like the natural choice to have chosen Clark to return as commencement speaker. As the College closes a year-long celebration of 100 years, there is no one more apt to speak to the Class of 2017 than a Providence College alumnus, and in the current political atomosphere, no one more apt than a journalist. Clark disclosed that this is a “Tumultuous political moment in history, and I think it’s important to touch on that without dwelling on it. It’ll be up to me how to figure out how to do that. I’m still working that through.”

Regardless of any obstacles Clark still faces in writing his commencement address, he is determined to make it both memorable and fun, like playing music throughout his speech, or rapping some lyrics from the musical Hamilton—a unique inclusion that marks many of Clark’s talks.

“A commencement should be a celebration and not a seminar, a reward for all your hard work. I played in a rock band at PC. I want to send the Class of 2017 dancing out of the Dunk into a life filled with hope and promise,” concluded Clark. Could you ask for a better start to post-grad life?

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