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'Glimpse of Light'

Class of 2020 celebrates overcoming a difficult year and collects diplomas

The Bridgewater State University’s class of 2020 waited an entire year before they were able to collect their diplomas. However, for Kelly Graham her journey to the commencement stage took 16 years.  

 “I dropped out of high school at 14,” said Graham, who earned her degree in social work. “Today my family gets to see that I don’t quit.” 

Over the past year, Graham has been studying at Boston University working toward a master’s degree in social work to become a high school adjustment counselor 

Friday night was her chance to acknowledge how far she’d come.  

“Today, we celebrate,” Graham said.

 That resilient spirit could describe BSU’s graduating class of 2020, whose members had their senior year interrupted by COVID-19 

The sound of bells rang out at Gillette Stadium Friday night, not to introduce the New England Patriots, but to announce the 925 graduates who returned to the stadium to finally participate in commencement ceremonies.  

In a recorded message, former Patriot standout Matt Light welcomed the crowd. 

You got here for a reason, doing the same things I had to do, hard work,” the three-time Super Bowl champion told the graduates. “(You) put it in each and every day to try and reach all these goals, do all the things that led to success on the field, or in this case, graduation.”

Linda Casavant said it was her daughter, Halie’s, hard work that propelled her past all the obstacles COVID-19 created. She was thrilled to be able to celebrate her accomplishment 

We are very excited to be here, Casavant said. “She worked very hard under difficult circumstances. We are so proud of her and how hard she had to focus.”  

Being able to celebrate in-person with family and friends was important for many graduates.  

“This day is for my parents,” said Brian Curtin, an accounting major. “They sacrificed a lot for me and did a lot to help me graduate. They want to take the photos, to celebrate…today is about honoring them just as much as they have honored me.”

 Kayleigh Poudrier, a communications major, was on the fence on whether she would return for commencement. But when President Frederick W. Clark Jr. kept his promise that he wouldn’t cancel the event and made the announcement earlier this year that the ceremony would be held at Gillette Stadium, she relented.  

“I wasn’t sure I would come back, but I didn’t feel I had closure,” Poudrier said. “I wanted my grandparents and family to see me graduate. We needed to celebrate.”

For psychology major Joseph Celia, ’20, returning for commencement helped him mark the closing of a chapter.  

“I feel I’m officially stepping into the real world and about to finally start my post-grad life,” he said.  

Therese Murray, former president of the Massachusetts Senate, Dr. Dana Mohler-Faria, president emeritus of Bridgewater State University, and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch each shared messages touting the graduates’ resilience.  

Lynch compared the class of 2020 to his parents generation, which overcame the Great Depression and war 

“Just as the greatest generation in its time, you have been shaped by your strength and your success,” the congressman said. “I think that same greatness, that same indomitable spirit and character, lies in you.”

As anticipation to finally walk the commencement stage bubbled over, student speaker, Alexis Monteirowas met with cheers when he said: “We’re here! We are back, like we never left.” 

Monteiro added, “Our story at BSU, the class of 2020, is filled with a lot of challenges and comeback stories and Gillette is the place to celebrate that. In a time where leading by fear was part of our daily lives, our love and empathy for others made us the glimpse of light in the darkness.”