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‘Limitless Potential’

Across two ceremonies, graduates celebrate their perseverance

When Joshua Patriquin graduated from Weymouth High School four years ago, he and his family were at home, sitting in the living room staring at the television.

Together they watched and waited for his name to scroll across the screen, announcing his accomplishment and that was the extent of his ceremony.

Things looked a lot different for the Bridgewater State University graduate this year as he crossed the commencement stage at Gillette Stadium to collect his degree in health sciences. Instead of sitting on a couch at home, he found himself standing in front of hundreds of family members and friends who cheered and celebrated the class of 2024.

“I’m definitely excited to be able to walk an actual stage to get my degree,” he said. “I know my mom is elated, she’s through the roof. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sets off fireworks.”

Because of the global COVID pandemic, many of the approximately 1,650 students earning bachelor’s degrees from BSU this year shared similar high school commencement experiences, and they agree being at Gillette to celebrate the moment was much more meaningful. With one exception.

“Well, I’m actually a Bills fan,” joked Brennan Gravanda, a computer science major from Wilbraham. “So, I’m conflicted, but it is nice to have it in the stadium. My mom is thrilled. A lot about today isn’t just for us, but our families. They didn’t get a (high school) graduation either, so this is a big moment for them, too.”

President Frederick W. Clark Jr., '83, acknowledged the “once-in-a-lifetime trials” the class of 2024 faced during the pandemic. He is confident that, because of this, they are ready to face whatever challenges are placed in front of them.

Tori Kalisz, a health science major who spoke to morning graduates, also emphasized the unique obstacles the class faced.

“Despite our challenges, we all stand here today, resilient and ready to embrace the next chapter in our lives,” she said. “I urge you to cultivate your resilience. Let it be your guiding light in times of darkness, your strength in times of weakness, your ally in times of struggle, and the beacon of hope that reminds you of your limitless potential.”

Afternoon student speaker Ilina Monteiro knows a lot about resilience. Ilina once questioned if she would ever attain a college diploma as she attempted suicide multiple times in high school. Now Ilina isn’t stopping with a bachelor’s degree. She’s entering the Master of Social Work program at BSU.

“This is a testament that anyone who struggles with any kind of mental health challenge, is not defined by it,” she told her peers. “We are capable of achieving anything we put our minds to, and I vow to persist, even in the face of doubts and adversity.”

During the morning ceremony, Jay Ash, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, identified one word that matters when it comes to building a career and having a great life.

“That word is relationships,” he said. “The relationships you cultivate can open doors for unforeseen possibilities. It has always been relationships that opened doors for me.”

Travis Adkins, president and CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation, compared students’ educational path to scaling a mountain, a climb where the BSU community fought for racial justice and supported people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, veterans, first-generation students and every graduate crossing the stage.

“The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next,” Adkins told afternoon graduates. “May we all go forward together to believe in and strive for a world more inclusive, more equitable and more prosperous for all people.”

Ash and Adkins received honorary degrees while BSU recognized three alumni with distinguished service awards: Gloria Stanton, ’74, G’00, former principal of the Burnell Campus School and a founding member of the BSU Afro-American Alumni Association; and Gloria Moran, G’69, and Evelyn DeLutis, ’63, whose extensive volunteer service includes sewing dresses for young girls in Africa.

As she prepared to process onto the Gillette Stadium field, psychology major Naima Jackson reflected on her family’s immigration to the U.S. from Haiti. While her parents never had the opportunity to earn a college degree, Naima now has law school in her sights.

“It feels really great,” Naima said of reaching this milestone as a first-generation student. “Graduation is a way for (my parents) to graduate, too.”

Music major Taylor Deas of Brockton hopes to go to graduate school for classical guitar, an instrument he began playing at BSU.

“Music is something that reaches a lot deeper,” Taylor said. “It’s something anyone can enjoy but, for me, I really feel it can change the way I think. … It’s a really powerful tool, and I definitely learned that being at BSU.”

President Clark said he has faith in each and every graduate as they prepare for the next steps in their journey.

“You are battle tested,” he said. “We believe in you, long live the class of 2024.”

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