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Spotlight on Commencement: A Special Focus

Samantha Brennan '12, Timothy P. Shriver, PhD, and the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Annually, thousands of Special Olympics athletes, coaches, and supporters from across the Commonwealth descend upon Villanova University for the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Fall Festival, the largest student-run Special Olympics program in the world, and are greeted by more than 2,500 Villanova students and other community members who volunteer during the weekend event.

For Samantha Brennan ’12, serving as the 2011 Fall Festival Director was a culminating moment of her Villanova experience.

“It was an opportunity to give back to the athletes in a greater capacity,” Brennan explained. “The Special Olympics is a cause that I have been passionate about throughout my high school and college years. For me, the underlying drive is simply to focus on the Special Olympics athletes—to honor them.”

Originally from Milwaukee, Wis., Brennan’s extended family first exposed her to working with people of varying abilities. She knew that Villanova hosted the Fall Festival and applied to volunteer as a Local Program Host (LPH)—a freshman-only opportunity that allows a students to serve as a liaison for a particular county’s athletes and coaches.

Subsequently, Brennan volunteered as a finance assistant, volunteers chair and, finally, festival director.

“Without a doubt, my participation with Special Olympics Pennsylvania shaped my overall experience at Villanova. It was a very defining aspect of college for me,” she said.

As a result, it was particularly fitting that Brennan introduced Villanova’s 2012 Commencement Speaker Timothy P. Shriver, PhD, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, May 18 at the University’s Commencement Ceremony.

“Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s son, Timothy Shriver, continues his mother’s legacy as an advocate for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Brennan said in her address to the crowd.

“Community is one word that we hear and use often on campus,” she continued. “It helps express the importance of relationships, of mutual support, of challenging one another that we all feel as Villanovans. Those same ideals characterize the Special Olympics movement.”

Brennan earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and a minor in French from Villanova’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She plans to attend the George Washington University Law School, the oldest law school in Washington, DC, this fall—and is considering pursuing disability advocacy law in the future.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.