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Sue Bush
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MCLA Graduation 2006

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, May 13, 2006

U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy delivered the MCLA 2006 Commencement Address on May 13.
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North Adams - The May 13 Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 2006 commencement ceremony had it all; powerful political leaders, a popular college president, strong speeches delivered by strong students, and a graduating class who gave of themselves frequently and generously to the city that proudly hosts their alma mater.

There were 273 bachelor degrees and 36 masters' degrees presented during the commencement. There were 13 students who earned a certificate of advanced graduate study.

Hundreds of family and friends crowded into the campus center gymnasium for the 11 a.m. ceremony. The graduation was originally scheduled to be held outdoors but rainy weather forced the event indoors.

Honorary Degrees

U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy delivered the commencement address and was presented with an MCLA honorary Doctor of Laws. Honorary degrees were also presented to Jacob's Pillow Executive Director Ella Baff, who received a Doctor of Fine Arts, teacher Edward J. Lawton, who was presented with a Doctor of Pedagogy, and retired Berkshire Life Insurance Company of America President James W. Zilinski, who was presented a Doctor of Humanities.

Kennedy was introduced by MCLA President Mary K. Grant and was welcomed with a standing ovation.

Kennedy Delivered Commencement Address

Kennedy acknowledged Grant's efforts as college president as he began his remarks, and commended Grant for "outstanding leadership as president of the college." He noted her impressive education resume, which includes MCLA, the University of Massachusetts, and Brandeis University.

"Most parents have trouble getting their children into college," he said. "But it sounds like President Grant's parents had trouble getting her out of college!"

Kennedy told the Class of 2006 that the new century is a wide open territory.

"The 20th century was widely hailed as the American century but the 21st century is up for grabs," Kennedy said. "No nation is guaranteed a future of lasting prosperity. China, India and other nations increasingly recognize what America learned many years ago - that investment in people is the key to progress and prosperity. If America is to stay in the forefront of the global economy, we'll have to work for it and sacrifice for it as well."

"We Have A Choice"

MCLA Class of 2006 member Ashley Mardis gets a big hug from MCLA 2005 graduate and sorority sister Shannon Halabove.
The "American Dream" must be approached with a new vigor and new ideas and strategies for success, Kennedy said.

"We have a choice," he said. "We can continue to be buffeted by the harsh winds of the global economy. Or we can think anew, and guide the currents of globalization with a progressive vision that strengthens America and prepares our people to move confidently to the future."

"In a very real sense, it means revitalizing the American dream, so that if people work hard and play by the rules, they can succeed in life, be better off then their parents, live in good neighborhoods, raise strong families in safe surroundings, work in decent jobs with decent pay and decent benefits and a decent retirement."

Kennedy acknowledged the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education and the compact's emphasis on lifelong learning, improved technology education, and its' vision, which includes encouraging area employers to promote civic involvement. The compact's focus on developing a "norm" of 16 years of education should be revered by other entities, he said.

"I'd like to see Congress embrace this goal at the federal level as well," Kennedy said.

As a society and a nation, "world-class education" must become the "highest priority," Kennedy said. That priority would bring about significant benefits.

"It means a future where America competes with other nations, not by reducing employees pay and outsourcing their jobs, but by raising their skills."

Changing Economy Generates Change In Education

The changing nature of the economy and its' global base means that education must change as well.

"In 1950, when I graduated from school, only 15 percent of jobs required some post-secondary training," Kennedy said. "Today, the number is over 60 percent and rising rapidly. Shamefully, we're witnessing a growing gulf in college attendance between the rich and poor. Each year, 400,000 college ready students don't attend a four-year college because they can't afford it. Never before has the financial challenge of college been greater for young students."

Those who do attend college do so only after families have made significant sacrifices, he noted, and added that "the least we can do" is remove cost as college barrier. And while the Class of 2006 possess the education necessary to become assets to the country and the world, "too many other talented, young men and women will never have the opportunity to celebrate a college graduation."

"One of my highest priorities in the Senate is to see that all young students can afford to do that and can freely follow their passions in their careers, and not feel the unwanted pressures of continuing concerns about paying for their degree."

He acknowledged the students efforts within the local community and told the graduates that his brother, President John F. Kennedy, "would be proud of you for 'Asking Not,' and so am I."

Light The Way

He termed the MCLA commitment to service and community learning "a model for other schools to follow."

"It's not hard to look around these days and see many things wrong with our country and our planet- from Iraq to Darfur, and the crises over energy and health care and global warming. But I urge you live by the old proverb 'It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.'"

"You don't have to make a headline to change things," Kennedy said. "In our country today and in nations throughout the world, young Americans are doing worthwhile things. They are people whose names you may never know, whose pictures you may never see, whose deeds you may never read about - young physicians bringing health care to people and places that never had a doctor - young teachers bringing knowledge and opportunity to children who never had a chance before - young business men and women bringing new enterprises to inner cities and rural farms, ending poverty and neglect."

Kennedy urged the graduating class to rail against falling prey to discouragement and apathy.

A proud family member brought flowers for a 2006 graduate.

He quoted Daniel Webster:

"'Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its greatest interests, and see whether we may also, in our day and generation, perform something worthy of being remembered.' "

"That challenge summons us across the years," Kennedy said. "May each of you, to the best of your ability, in your own day and generation, perform something worthy to be remembered."

Strong And Tall

During his remarks, the state's "dean of mayors" and MCLA graduate Mayor John Barrett III praised the social and civic dedication of the graduating class.

"This class can look back with a great deal of pride at what you've done for this city," Barrett said.

Barrett drew laughter when he advised the class members that certain city businesses, such as Whitney's package store, the Pitcher's Mound pub and the Xtra Mart convenience store would miss the students greatly.

He offered a Native American prayer: "May you be as strong as the oak yet flexible as the birch, may you stand as tall as the redwood, live gracefully as the willow, and may you always bear fruit all your days on this earth."

Let The Passion Continue

Class of 2006 President Amanda Boudreault's goals include teaching English in Vietnam and pursuing a masters degree in urban development. Boudreault told her classmates that "To those whom much is given, much is expected."

As underclassmen, the students were products of the college, as graduates, they are now resources for the college, she said.

"We have journeyed through the past four years with great passion and we must not lose that," she said.

Boudreault acknowledged Grant as a "strong leader who's guided the college through the changes of the past four years."

Just Say No To Status Quo

MCLA Class of 2006 members Stephanie Deery and Laura Harrington, both of Adams.
Mount Anthony Union High School [Bennington, Vt.] teacher Kathryn Schonbeck, who earned a master's degree in education at MCLA, delivered a powerful speech focused on the challenges facing teachers and the current state of public education.

"Many of us began this program disillusioned and tired," Schonbeck said. "The reality that non-funded government mandates were dehumanizing our school communities by insisting that we everything other than educate and measure our success by everything other than student success in the world upon graduating [if indeed they did graduate], this had worn us down."

"Many of us came to MCLA because it was the one program within 100 miles that was both affordable and flexible [even factoring in crippling gas prices]," she continued. "The individuals in the program, teachers, staff, and students, recognize the unusual levels of personal investment that are expected from everyone. There is a great deal of support and respect for that investment. Weekend and evening classes, affordable tuition, mean that students at MCLA can balance family obligations, a job and their studies. It's not easy by any means, but it's doable."

Schonbeck quoted Martin Luther King: "Don't be afraid to put your foot on the first rung even if you can't see the rest of the ladder."

"Even if it is impossible to see how we are going to move our society out of the terrible place we find ourselves in, I am absolutely confident that to maintain the status quo is no longer an option. I am equally confident that each of us does indeed matter, our individual voices have an impact and our individual choices are making change happen."

Grant noted that the Class of 2006 began their MCLA careers at about the same time as she did. She recalled the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which was commemorated with a community walk through the downtown that culminated with a student-led candlelight ceremony at the college campus.

"They Will Change The World"

The Class of 2006 was forced to face many changes that affected their education, including repeated tuition hikes at the hands of state leaders. Energy, wit, sweat, and tears delivered the students to this graduation, she said.

"In the face of all these challenges, this class continued to excel."

Included in the Class of 2006 are "many who will teach a child," Grant said.

"Many already have," she said. "There are many who will write a poem; many already have. The Class of 2006 have changed the college."

That, said Grant, is just the beginning.

MCLA Class of 2006 members marched into campus center gymnasium for commencement.

"They will change the world."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or 802-823-9367.
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