Student Cancer Survivor Puts Academics First
Growing up in Boston’s North End, Caitlin McGovern ’08 (political science) attended Boston Latin School, was elected to the National Honor Society and received magna cum laude twice on the National Latin Exam. A member of student council, she cofounded Populi Primi, a student volunteer group, tutored math after school and worked as a part-time clerk at Old North Church and as a nanny.
With credentials like that, McGovern could have attended college anywhere but she chose UMass Amherst and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences because it offered her the best financial package.
“Both of my parents were physically disabled when I was very young, which caused them financial hardship,” McGovern explains. “Honestly, at first I was a little disappointed that I’d be attending a public university, but after less than a month on campus, I fell in love with the place. It offers amazing cultural and academic opportunities and teaches the value of being assertive and branching out to find programs of personal interest. And I think it offers something a lot of colleges don’t: a down-to-earth sensibility. It has been a blessing for me.”
McGovern deserves some blessings. Diagnosed with cancer as a high-school freshman, she has endured several surgeries. “Six years later, I’m happy to say that I’m in remission. It certainly has taught me about strength and determination. I actually wrote my college essay about that—not so much my personal experience, but the strength I saw in the smallest but bravest of children I encountered at Dana Farber.”
That fortitude continues to rise to the surface. McGovern, a member of Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society and recipient of the prestigious Stanley Koplik Certificate of Mastery Award from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, is completing her political science major with the law option, plus two minors in economics and art history. “I became fascinated with politics when I took an introductory course on political philosophy at Harvard one summer during high school,” she recalls. “The idea of being able to shape the way we think about civic duty or responsibility to one another is intriguing.”
In 2004 McGovern received the John William Ward Fellowship to work with a public official for a summer. “I worked under Judge Sragow in the Middlesex County DA’s office, in the Victim Witness Services and Drug Court. The experience was enlightening and drives me toward the law. My dream is to be a judge—but first I need to think about finishing my degree here and then going to law school!”
McGovern praises the learning environment offered by the political science department. “Through TAP (Talent Advancement Program) I experienced a supportive environment in which to develop and discuss my ideas. Plus, the professors have been terrific. Sheldon Goldman taught me the logistics of how law functions: how citizens are impacted by and can impact law. John Brigham taught me that politics and law are living: they can be seen, touched and molded and are constantly changing.”
The concept of politics being visible caused McGovern to look around. More and more she noted private names on public places. “I began to wonder if these buildings or parks were named for people who had accomplished great things and served as an inspiration, or, more cynically, if naming public places had more to do with money than with inspiration.”
Curiosity, and an opportunity to work with Professor Brigham on a sophomore Commonwealth College research fellowship, made McGovern look at naming rights more seriously. Many questions surfaced. She explains, “As we see more and more corporate funding, will we see a trend towards buildings being named after corporations? If so, will those corporations serve as our inspiration instead of a distinguished individual? What are the laws surrounding naming rights to public facilities? Where does the line between public and private stand on this issue?” McGovern will explore these issues in her upcoming honors thesis.
Meanwhile, to meet her college expenses (the Koplik award is a tuition waiver, but does not cover fees, room, or board expenses), McGovern is holding down a job in the Bursar’s Office. “I waitress every summer, and for the previous two years I worked in one of the campus dining commons. I do try to keep a balance in my life. I’m a member of the International Relations Club, have been treasurer of my dorm council, and enjoyed the Outing Club. I love all the friends I’ve made. They say your college friendships are the lasting ones, and I certainly hope so, but as always my academics come first.”
April 18, 2007