Study abroad is an integral piece of Florence’s cultural life, a continuation of Renaissance ideals that place knowledge and research at the forefront of the city’s lived values. Florence has long been a home for international collaboration, and the values of learning through lived experience of knowledge, curiosity, exchange, and the importance of global perspectives, are exemplified by the partnership between Marist College (New York) and Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence. This year, at the commencement ceremony for Marist Italy graduates held at the beautiful Palazzo Budini Gattai, these shared values were celebrated as Marist College awarded Lorenzo de’ Medici’s founder, Fabrizio Guarducci, with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, alongside degree awards for the graduating class of 2023.
Dr. Fabrizio Guarducci began the Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1973 with a vision to teach the Italian language in a way that was fully experiential, one that immersed students in the wonder of Florence as a part of the learning itself. The language could not be studied in a theoretical way, but had to be lived as a complete immersion, and this learning could not exist without the experience of Florence as a cultural cradle.
Guarducci’s vision and his lifelong achievements as an accomplished film maker, writer and cultural leader were honored by Marist College, which awarded the doctorate in honor of “50 years of exceptional education and learning experiences provided by Lorenzo de Medici. For his visionary leadership in creating and growing the institution, the commitment to students and helping them develop their creativity and realize their own potential, and for the valued partnership between Lorenzo de’ Medici and Marist College.” So noted Dr. Kevin Weinman, president of Marist College, who traveled to Florence from the college’s main campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, to award the degree.
This vision and leadership have been carried forward together with the current president and CEO of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Carla Guarducci, and expanded to go beyond the teaching of language and into sharing the full cultural and artistic reality of Florence, with over 500 courses representing a broad-based liberal arts and hands on curriculum, with courses from art history and restoration, to global marketing and fashion. By virtue of the Institute’s deep roots in the city, in 2018 Carla Guarducci was awarded the Silver Pegasus by the Tuscan regional council. LdM brings all of this expansive cultural capital into their partnership with Marist College, who proudly launched a bachelor’s degree program in partnership with Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici in September 2005. The Freshman Florence Experience (FFE), a unique and award-winning first year abroad program, was launched in 2006, and the Master of Arts in Museum Studies welcomed its first cohort in 2010.
The degree programs at Marist Italy offer students the opportunity to earn a U.S. College Degree while studying in an environment known for its contributions to modern society and the arts. Students benefit from exposure to European educational approaches and private agreements with major Florence museums, ensuring access to exclusive sites, artworks and events, while meeting all academic criteria outlined by Marist College’s accrediting body, the Middle States Association of Higher Education. This international alliance of educational institutions offers a learning experience that elevates university education and cultural interaction to new levels. The offerings at the Florence campus are distinct and draw interest from students around the world. Marist’s full academic year study abroad program ranks #1 in the nation in participation among U.S. master’s degree granting institutions, according to the latest Open Doors report for the 2020-2021 academic year.
As President Weinman states, “The partnership between Marist and LdM is both distinctive and powerful. Few colleges of Marist’s size have accredited branch campuses outside of the United States.” Vanessa Nichol-Peters, director of Marist’s programs in Italy noted that “the Marist – Lorenzo de’ Medici partnership is one that is built on mutual respect, vision and inspiration. We equip, support and complement one another to do great things, and this shines through in the great work and accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff.”
This was a milestone year for many reasons. This year LdM celebrates 50 years of education, while the two institutions celebrate a decades-long partnership. The graduates of the class of 2023 were those who were first evacuated during the Covid crisis, and includes students who began their study abroad experience in quarantine, in complete isolation, and yet remained dedicated to the path of international education. As Carla Guarducci encouraged, we must remember T.S. Eliot’s words that offer a light to illuminate even the most challenging journey: “We shall not cease from exploration. The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” As the graduates move onto the next stage of their lives, Guarducci reminded them to live in a way that forever embodies the artistic soul of Florence that has now marked their own, “Be creative, and let your life become the most beautiful poem ever.”
In a time where there is some debate about the value of international students in Florence, and where the students themselves often share widely differing experiences of their time abroad, it is important to recognize what the best outcomes of these global collaborations can be. While many students come to Florence for a single semester, what makes these graduates unique is that they studied for the entire four years of their undergraduate years here in Florence. Perhaps they intended this from the very beginning or, as often happens, their souls were captured in the first semester by the astounding opportunity that study abroad in Florence provides, and they requested a transfer to complete their studies abroad.
This is truly something to celebrate, when education allows for a deeply intimate and respectful relationship with a historical city that is able to deepen over time. During the ceremony, as Italian professors each spoke of their affection and unique relationship with each graduate, the lifelong bonds that have formed between countries, one mentor relationship at a time, were made clear. This is the foundation of inspiring and future-generating international relations.
Dr. Fabrizio Guarducci recognized the American school system in his thank-you speech, honoring their process of education. “In America, for the first years of study, you create good human beings. And then, after you have become a good person, then you can pursue your research and your studies.” For these students, that personal development was shaped by their time in Florence and, in return, they offered to the city an approach that goes against the stereotypes of young, partying students.
American Consul General Ragini Gupta attended the ceremony and shared some of her experiences, from a young graduate backpacking in Italy to her important work as the top US diplomat in Tuscany. Gupta congratulated the graduates for exemplifying the absolute best of cultural exchange, which produces quality scholars and humans with a lifelong love of Tuscany and Florence. By showing the best of what America and students from all visiting countries have to offer the world through their dedication to learning and experiencing Florence with respect and true appreciation, they have had their first experience of navigating the world as “grassroots citizen diplomats”. May it be the first of many.