The skies brightened just in time for Bridgewater State University to hold its first-ever split convocation ceremony.
More than 750 undergraduates from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences were honored during the morning ceremony; the afternoon added nearly 650 graduates from the Ricciardi College of Business, the College of Education and Allied Studies, and the Bartlett College of Science & Mathematics.
For many students, it was hard to believe the big day had finally arrived.
“It feels unreal, all the hard work is paying off,” said graduating senior Melissa Oquendo. “I feel very accomplished and glad to be part of this big community.”
The Boston resident and sociology major took part in the first half of BSU’s 173rd spring commencement convocation. Thousands of family and friends of the graduates attended the ceremonies, held beneath a tent on the Boyden Quadrangle.
For many, convocation marked the end of a journey. Timothy Dorr of Walpole, who received a bachelor’s in psychology, said he was happy to begin a new chapter in his life.
“It feels very good, a long time coming,” he said.
President Dana Mohler-Faria in his remarks talked about that journey and the work that lies ahead for each.
“It doesn’t matter where you came from, who your parents were, what the color of your skin is, how old you are, your sexual orientation, your political beliefs, it does not matter.” he said. “What matters is that you are here, with us and you have been mentored, taught and guided by our faculty, and you have learned that no matter what our differences, no matter what your station in life, that you have a common cause. That cause is to advance humanity.”
The President also singled out a program between BSU and The Home for Little Wanders that allows young people aging out of the foster care system to attend Bridgewater. Created with The Home’s President and CEO Joan Wallace-Benjamin, who is also a BSU trustee, the program saw its first five graduates receive their diplomas during the morning ceremony. The program was an example of what it means to be part of something bigger, the president said.
"Focus your life on what matters because that care and concern will make all the difference not only in their lives but in your life. I thank you for what you have contributed to us,” he said.
Dr. Howard London, provost and vice president of academic affairs, who will retire in June after a lengthy career at Bridgewater, delivered a speech where he reflected on his time at the institution and told graduates that it was now their time to sit at the head of the table. That place of distinction comes with benefits and responsibilities, he said. In concluding, he bid his farewell.
“Thank you for the honor of having served you,” he said. “It was how I chose to live my life and it has indeed been an honor.”
More than one speaker celebrated the meteorological good fortune the day brought, with the heavy rains ending in the hours before the morning ceremony began.
“The rain stopped, it’s all good, just for you,” said Trustee Chairman Louis M. Ricciardi, ’81. He told graduates at the first ceremony about the importance of contributing to one’s community.
“I ask you to consider the impact of one life, your life and how and what that impact can have on the lives of the communities in which you exist, and consider all those who have had an impact on your life as you celebrate your significant accomplishment today.”
In the afternoon, Mr. Ricciardi espoused the virtues of a liberal arts education, and concluded by telling the members of the class of 2014: “We encourage you to be lifelong learners… Consider your bachelor’s degree you first step.”
Hannah Taverna of Hull earned her bachelor’s degree in social work, and was the morning ceremony’s student speaker. Her talk detailed a global perspective on giving back.
“We recognize our connectedness not only to our communities, but to even the most rural villages across the globe,” she said. “We are, and always will be, forever leaving our mark, creating new paths and embarking on new journeys. Once again, I would like to say congratulations to all of us on the accomplishment of a journey, and to the beginning of a new one.”
The afternoon speaker, Deborah Shaw, a health studies major and Mansfield native who now lives in Rumford, R.I., charged her classmates with an important task.
“We are a great generation of individuals,” she said. “Now is our time and we will make a difference.”
Distinguished Service Awards were presented to Cheryl Opper, founder and executive director of the Brockton-based School on Wheels of Massachusetts, which has helped educate more than 1,700 students of homeless families; and June Saba, ’94, G ’04, executive director of learning and teaching PreK-5 in Brockton, who worked with BSU to create the Footbridge Program, where university students work with elementary school children from the Huntington Elementary School.
The service of these two women personified many of the messages graduates heard on this day of convocation. It was a note sounded again by President Mohler-Faria, who concluded his address during the afternoon ceremony with the words: “Make your life a life with true meaning.”
(Story by student Caitlin Seddon with additional material by John Winters, G ’11; photos by students Kerri Spero, Steve Rowell, Erin O’Leary and Michelle Jennette, University News)