Class of 2018 valedictorian Kyle Berlin ’18 and 2017 Young Alumni Trustee Achille Tenkiang ’17 have been named George J. Mitchell Scholars. The scholarship provides 12 recipients across the United States with a full year of graduate study in Ireland. Berlin will study culture and colonialism at the National University of Ireland, Galway, while Tenkiang will pursue race, migration, and de-colonial studies at University College Dublin.
“I’ve been drawn to Ireland for a long time,” Berlin said. “I first became obsessed with the style of Sean Nós, which is a traditional style of singing and dance that’s very responsive. I'm very interested in how it’s a real-time response to audiences or to other people in the room and how you may think of artistry as a sort of radical, responsive co-presence.”
As an A.B. candidate in the Spanish and Portuguese department, Berlin also received certificates in theatre and creative writing. He has volunteered with various migration non-profits, such as the New Sanctuary Coalition.
At the University Berlin studied colonialism in the Latin American context. Given Ireland’s unique position in relation to England, Berlin hopes to study colonialism through a European perspective, which will deepen his understanding of it as a scholar, writer, and artist.
Berlin said he is continuously inspired by a line from the poem “Peanut Butter” by poet Eileen Myles: “I have / no desire to know / where this, anything / is getting me.”
“I recognize that I have a tremendous amount of privilege, and I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I want to best use my energies and talents towards the direction of the good,” Berlin said. “Studying colonialism and culture in Ireland for a year and being immersed in the unique context there will deepen my understanding of the cultural discourses of how power functions in society and how the arts may thus intervene in those discourses.”
As a specialist in documentary theatre, Berlin anticipates investigating Ireland’s responses to recent increases in immigration. Since the country maintains stable economics and liberalized rapidly, Ireland is grappling with the challenges and opportunities of a greater influx of immigrants.
“One of the defining questions of our time is how we imagine our country, whatever that country may be, and who we can welcome and who we cannot,” Berlin said.
He discussed the role emotions can play in scholarship.
“One of my fundamental beliefs is that our feelings are very informative, and we have a tendency in intellectual circles to discount feelings or push it to the side,” Berlin said. “But if we can mold our feelings, encounter, and experience them in responsible ways, I think that’s the path to a joyful existence.”
Tenkiang ’17 works as a legal assistant for White & Chase LLP in Paris, France, and was elected to the University Board of Trustees as a Young Alumni Trustee in 2017. He is currently serving the third year of his term.
While at the University, Tenkiang completed a degree with an independent concentration in African studies with certificates in urban studies and French. Additionally, he was a recipient of the PIIRS Undergraduate Fellowship in 2016 and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship in 2015.
On campus, Tenkiang served as co-president of the African Students Association, co-founder of the Black Leadership Coalition, and a member of the University’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. According to the statement by the Office of Communications, Tenkiang was also a Wilson College peer academic advisor and a member of the Umqombothi African Music Ensemble, Ellipses Slam Poetry Team, and the Dorobucci Dance Team.
Tenkiang did not respond to request for comment in time for the publication of this article.