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Student Spotlight: Olivia Prevost – Embracing the Liberal Arts

Rebecca McDermott
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts

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“In a workaholic culture that grows daily more all-consuming, the liberal arts are as necessary as ever for a flourishing human life.” These are the words of junior Olivia Prevost, a philosophy major, who also minors in theology, music and English. President of the Mount’s Philosophy Club, she also loves to paint and is an accomplished performer on the Irish fiddle.

Both of Prevost’s parents encouraged her liberal arts journey. Her mother, Kathleen, who holds a master’s degree in English, was Olivia’s primary teacher as she home-schooled through high school.  Her father, Robert, is a philosophy professor at Wingate University in North Carolina.  When it came time for Olivia to choose a college, it was important that she pick a university that would nurture her Catholic faith. “I knew the Mount was a place that took the Catholic faith seriously, and that was really important for me,” she explained. After touring campus, she knew she could grow spiritually at the Mount while receiving a meaningful education from a strong university.

The Mount was also an ideal place to develop her musical talents. “I loved music when I was growing up.”  She recalled taking violin and piano lessons and performing in the church choir, saying she “always loved singing.”  Then, she said, “I picked up the fiddle at age 15 and haven’t put it down since.”  After coming to the Mount, Prevost joined the Chorale, directed by Andrew Rosenfeld, DMA, and found the “open access and welcoming environment amazing for me personally.”  She also took courses in strings, percussion and music history.  Studying abroad in the Mount’s semester-long, Dublin program furthered her passion for traditional Irish music.  She deepened her knowledge of Irish culture, studied her instrument in the country of its origin, and had the pleasure of playing in Irish pubs. “The opportunity to play the folk music that I have been studying in the authentic environment was amazing for me,” she said, “and the study-abroad experience in general gave me a wider perspective about the diversity of the world and life in general.”

The Mount’s Visual and Performing Arts Department also helped Prevost develop her talent for visual art, which she has appreciated for as long as she can remember.  A painting class offered by Professor of Art Elizabeth Holtry, M.F.A., helped Prevost understand that “our vision goes deeper than just what our eyes see.”  Continuing to paint in her spare time, she now works with the goal of “seeing people and things with an eye for beauty that transcends the blatant organization of objects.”  

While Prevost’s father is a philosopher, she did not fully engage with that subject until her first year at the Mount, when she searched for a major by exploring a variety of courses.  “As it turns out,” she recalled, “all of the courses that I was interested in during that time were philosophy courses.”  This year she served on the editorial board of the Mount’s student theology and philosophy journal, Tolle Lege, an experience she described as an “amazing opportunity that has allowed me to critically analyze my fellow students’ works and wrestle with a variety of original and engaging topics.”  Philosophy also opened her eyes to beauty in other disciplines.  “As a philosophy major,” she explained, “I am particularly positioned to help other students encounter the liberal arts in a new and deeper way.”

Studying the liberal arts also allowed Prevost to see how academic inquiry can impact your life.  “The majority of skills that you will need to be successful include critical reasoning, communication, and finding your sense of purpose,” she offered.  “When a university teaches the liberal arts, it does not simply pass on technical skill in writing or performance.  A true liberal arts education nourishes the totality of the human person and protects her against the ceaseless demands of productivity.”  While she understands the desire for a technical degree, she believes liberal arts majors effectively prepare students for the real world, particularly those who enter college without “a specific job in mind.”

Prevost recently received two major prizes at this spring’s Academic Awards Ceremony.  The first of these, the Della Ratta Award, goes to a junior “who exhibits the highest standards of liberal learning through breadth and depth of study” with “exceptional abilities of critical and creative thinking, and fine moral character.”  Prevost also won the Gadamer Liberal Arts Scholarship.  Established in 2015 by T.J. Rainsford, C’95, and Lisa Rainsford, C’96, this prize is awarded every year to a rising sophomore, junior or senior who submits an essay that best articulates the author’s “dedication to lifelong learning and critical investigation in and outside of the classroom, and who participates in extra-curricular work or work-study activities that leverage a liberal arts education.”  Because all Mount students receive thorough training in the liberal arts by virtue of their participation in the university’s sequenced and integrated core curriculum, all rising students are eligible. 

In her scholarship-winning essay, Prevost reflected on the education she is receiving.  “Since coming to the Mount, I have been incredibly blessed by passionate professors who are willing to invest in me and help develop my vision,” she said.  “Through the lens of the liberal arts, they have opened my eyes to the wonders of the world and have given me a language to articulate its beauty.”  Drawing on the work of German philosopher Josef Pieper, she adds, “My liberal arts education has given me a point of view from which I can see the whole world, not merely as a mush of mindless mechanisms endlessly churning out paychecks, but as a unified whole meant to be enjoyed, rested in and ultimately transcended by a reality that runs deeper than anything conceived in the world of total work.”  

With a year left before she graduates, Prevost will continue to embrace the opportunities the Mount offers. She has already begun thinking about continuing her philosophical studies in graduate school, but she plans to take a gap year to pursue mission work.  Until that time, she is resolved “to contribute to the liberal arts in any way that I can.”

Rebecca McDermott
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts