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‘Celebration Point’

Graduates reflect on journeys to advanced degrees

As a high school chemistry teacher, Michael Pollino, ’13, G’24, appreciates the “aha” moments when his students master a difficult concept.

And, with a BSU graduate degree in physical sciences now in hand, Pollino is ready to help countless more students reach new academic heights.

“I’ve already implemented many things I learned at BSU,” said Michael, who appreciated how Bridgewater offered classes geared specifically to teachers. “I love the job and I love working with students.”

Michael and more than 450 of his graduating peers experienced many of their own “aha” moments as they completed advanced degrees at BSU. With the support of dedicated faculty and faithful peers, these Bears are ready to make their mark on their families, communities and the world.

“Here at Bridgewater, you have already left a legacy of optimism and determination that we admire and know will sustain you,” said Board of Trustees Chair Jean MacCormack.

In a world marred by war, climate change, economic instability and inequality, the College of Graduate Studies' class of 2024 has exhibited kindness, leadership and commitment, all traits that prepare them to tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges, said President Frederick W. Clark Jr., ’83

“You stand here today as a testament to your personal determination and desire to succeed,” Clark said.

Featured speaker and state Senate President Karen Spilka recalled a time when a mechanic tried to sell her repairs that her Volkswagen Beetle didn’t need. Rather than give in to a scammer, Spilka learned to repair her car herself.

Graduates have shown that same persistence, and are ready to apply it to their lives and careers, Spilka said.

“We need you in hospitals, in businesses, in nonprofits, in classrooms, in labs, in local government and in the Statehouse,” Spilka said. “Massachusetts needs you. We need your brilliance, we need your talents, we need your initiative.”

Spilka received an honorary degree while Mary Price, director of the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative, received a distinguished service award. Ala’a Ahmad Ali Bani Melhem, G’24, was recognized with the distinguished graduate thesis award while Kayla Medeiros, ’15, G’23, earned the distinguished graduate research-project award.

Student speaker Jamie Jackson, G'24, who received a social work degree, encouraged her peers to be seen and heard. Always strive to be kinder and more capable and confident, she said.

“Challenge yourself to be your best, yes, but also dare to allow for softness and vulnerability as well,” she said. “The world needs more softness. Look for the places in this world that need light, and shine it brightly, because how we show up for one another matters.”

Social work graduates were joined on the field by their unofficial mascot, Gatsby, a service dog who assists Emma Marie Francis, G’24. Emma has a rare genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and Gatsby helps her in many ways including safely climbing over curbs and picking up objects.

Shaped by her personal challenges, Emma looks forward to helping others after graduation as a therapist.

“It’s really exciting, and I feel like a lot more opportunities have opened up for me,” she said.

International student Jonathan Opio, G’24, of Uganda, also sees his future coming into focus. He studied computer science with the goal of working in artificial intelligence. He’s already secured his first job in the rapidly developing field as a technical writer.

But first he took time to enjoy the commencement spotlight.

“I feel relieved all the hard work is done,” Jonathan said. “This is the celebration point.”

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