Undergraduate Commencement Held

News Feature

News & Events

May 13, 2017

Erin O’Leary spent her time at Bridgewater State University in classrooms, studying in Italy, working on campus, hanging out with her sisters in Phi Sigma Sigma, volunteering at the Children’s Physical Development Clinic, and interning in her field of communication sciences and disorders. Saturday, after just three-and-a-half years, she graduated summa cum laude.


“It was an overwhelming feeling to cross the stage this morning,” she said. “After completing my degree in December, I have been looking forward to this day ever since.” 


The Hanover native next plans to get a master’s degree in speech-language pathology so she “can help others communicate the best that they can.”


“As my graduation cap says, I plan to ‘be the change I wish to see in the world,’” Ms. O’Leary said.


She was one of nearly 2,100 graduates receiving bachelor’s degrees in the arts, sciences, business and education awarded during Bridgewater State University’s 176th Spring Commencement Convocation held Saturday on the Boyden Quadrangle.


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Undergraduate majors from the Ricciardi College of Business, College of Education & Allied Studies, and the Bartlett College of Science & Mathematics were awarded their degrees during the morning ceremony while graduates in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences received their diplomas in the afternoon.


President Frederick W. Clark Jr. told those gathered that his own son graduated from Berklee College of Music that same morning. At first, knowing he was going to miss that ceremony made him sad, he said. Then, graduating senior Lorenz Marcellus came and spoke to him.


“You came in to see me and said ‘President Clark, you’re going to be with lots of your sons and daughters on Saturday here at Bridgewater State.’ So I just want to say, ‘thank you,’” he said.


When it came to give his official remarks, the graduates were expecting President Clark to provide them with words of uplift and advice. Instead, he threw them a curveball. 


You are the inspiration here today,” he said. 


The president then shared stories of a handful of graduates: The ones who struggled to attend college and finish, the military veterans who not only served their country but then came home to earn their degree and keep on serving, the student so intent on completing her degree that she took nine classes during her final semester, and others.


Most likely every student crossing the stage Saturday had a story to share, the president said.


“A story of sacrifice… A story of risk… It’s a story of love, it’s a story of hard work, long hours and so many responsibilities. It’s also a story of success.”


In the end, the struggles pay off, the president said.


“Your degree is all the more precious because of the effort it took to get here today,” the president said. He closed by asking the students to not only come back to campus and to help future generations of Bears, but also to be ambassadors for their alma mater.


“Do me a favor,” he said. “go out into the world and show them what it means to be a Bridgewater graduate.”


Delivering the keynote addresses were two of the region’s long-serving community college presidents, both of whom are retiring this summer.


Dr. John J. Sbrega, retiring president of Bristol Community College, was the featured speaker at the morning ceremony while Dr. Charles Wall of Massasoit Community College, addressed graduates during the afternoon. Both were awarded an Honorary Degree in Public Education. Their involvement in Saturday’s ceremonies underscored the important connection between their institutions and BSU: Each year, approximately 300 students/graduates transfer from Bristol to Bridgewater, while 350 transfer from Massasoit.


In his remarks, President Sbrega told the students to avoid the “evil twins” of conformity and mediocrity.


“Dare to risk failure,” he said. “The opposite of success is not failure, it’s refusal to try.”


Dr. Sbrega’s remarks were peppered with quotations, each urging the students to stretch beyond their comfort zones. He ended by imparting some advice to the graduates as they slid “down the razor blade of life.” He suggested they be humble, generous, responsible, and always have the proper perspective and a sense of self. Also helpful, Dr. Sbrega suggested? “A sense of humor and a sense of discipline.”


President Wall’s speech focused on the word “perspective.” It’s needed, he said, whether looking inward or outward.


“It’s a way of thinking and viewing ideas, institutions, government, our families, ourselves, our colleges and universities,” he said. “But perspective doesn’t just start in one’s head, it comes from and comes through information, knowledge, leading to understanding, creativity and yes, even wisdom.”


Dr. Wall referenced our current state of affairs, as well. 


“One of the challenges today is that we are bombarded with information, but what we’ve been seeking here is knowledge, knowledge that leads to understanding,” he said. “Keep thinking of perspective as you look at the world. It’s needed now more than ever.”


He finished with some sage advice for the graduates, including “Savor and relish the ordinary and close at hand.”


The morning’s student speaker, Jacob Ames of Ashland, a physical education major, told of a recent solo hike he took out west. After the first day, he almost packed it in. However, the next morning he started out and ran into a couple in their 80s. When he asked if the view from the peak was worth the climb, the husband just smiled.


The lesson was that “the best part of any hike is getting there,” Mr. Ames said. “If you just go to get to the top, you miss everything along the way. Here’s my message… ‘Love your process, be unequivocally devoted to your journey… Be thankful for the here and now.’” 


He earned a standing ovation from his classmates.


Munah Wisner of Worcester, a criminal justice major, addressed her fellow graduates in the afternoon. She summed up the experience of she and her fellow classmates, concluding that: “We are motivated and determined people who sought to make our dreams a reality.”


Looking forward, Ms. Wisner said she and her classmates are ready for whatever may come.


“There is so much more that lies ahead of us,” she said. “I am here to testify that BSU has prepared all of us to take on these challenges with style and grace.”


She also thanked the facilities and dining hall employees who played key roles during her time at BSU.


Among the most touching moments of the day took place when each student speaker remembered their BSU peers who passed away during the course of their studies. They thanked them for “reminding us of the true value of life.”


At the afternoon ceremony, Ron Burton Jr. accepted university’s Distinguished Service Award on behalf of the Ron Burton Training Village, which was named for his father, the legendary All-American New England Patriot. The village, located in Hubbardston, has empowered more than 4,000 young men and women from low-income families through its extraordinary programs and messages of peace, love, patience and humility. (Story by John Winters, G ’11, University News & Media; Eva T. Gaffney, G ’01, contributed to this story)


Scenes from undergraduate commencement