by Sabrina Guilbeault ’18
Writer of Spare Parts Addresses Students at the 2017-2018 Academic Convocation
“Education is primarily a collaborative endeavor,” said Father Brian Shanley, O.P., president of Providence College, as he stood before the campus community Monday afternoon at Academic Convocation. His remarks were inspired by this year’s Common Reading book, Spare Parts, and he explained that what he found most significant about the story was the relationship between the students and their teachers.
Prior to his remarks, a video played highlighting all the major centennial events that occurred just last year, including the Black & White Ball, the Presidential Speaker Series, and the Our Moment Centennial Celebration. The message of the video was clear, as the Class of 2021 is the class that will bring PC into its second century.
To ensure another century of academic achievement, Fr. Shanley asserted that to find success, we can look to the young men in Spare Parts for guidance. “I was inspired by how active the young men were in their learning, and how their teachers taught them how to learn,” he said. “They were challenged to figure things out on their own, and learn how to learn.”
Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream, is a true story written by Joshua Davis, who was the keynote speaker Monday afternoon. The novel tells the tale of the four Latino teenagers who beat MIT in the Marine Advanced Technology Education Robotics Competition in 2004, and deals with themes such as immigration, lack of resources in inner-city high schools, and, as the title suggests, the battle for the American dream.
“So, who read the book?” Davis boldly asked the crowd when it was his turn to speak. After a few honest brave souls raised their hands, he joked with his audience and said, “A good piece of advice, never answer that question in college.”
Davis has been writing for over 15 years, and after writing for the magazine Wired, he currently owns his own magazine and is a movie producer. “I did not intend to become a journalist,” Davis said. “I majored in economics in college because I knew nothing about it.”
He got a good laugh from the crowd when he explained that the problem with studying macroeconomics is that once one graduates, one is only qualified to run a small European company, and began his tale as to how he ended up doing data entry at a phone company for work. “What was curious was that if I typed the wrong number into the computer, it would beep at me, which would lead me to conclude that somehow the data was already being typed in, which prompted me to see how long it would take before I went crazy,” Davis joked.
Perhaps what made his speech relatable to a freshman class beginning their college experience, was that even if students did not read his book, Davis offered advice that can be applied to many aspects of college. “Just show up,” he said. He explained how he came to win fourth place in the United States National Arm Wrestling Championship without ever winning an arm wrestling match, and how that led him to compete in Poland for 17th place in the World Arm Wrestling Championship (again, without ever winning an arm wrestling match) and all he had to do was show up.
Eventually this quirky story led to his position at Wired, where he would write about this experience and would eventually lead him to cover the war in Iraq. “Just by showing up, I was led to a career that I didn’t at all plan.”
He related his own experience to the experiences of the boys in Spare Parts, who risked deportation by showing up to a robotics competition at the collegiate level, but pointed out if they hadn’t shown up, who would have beat MIT? “Imagine being that passionate about your education,” he said.
“I was glad the freshmen got to hear his story, and glad I got to hear it too,” said Jerod Magazine ’19, an orientation leader who attended Convocation. “The speaker was relatable, and it was cool he didn’t just talk about the book, but his life story.”
Davis ended his speech by encouraging the audience to push themselves to “show up.” “So I leave you with this idea: push yourself into something that’s uncomfortable and surprising things will happen,” he said. “Today is the beginning of that journey for you.”