NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — To the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts class of 2009: Get out there and fail.
Not forever, and not on purpose. "I don't mean work at Kmart for 20 years and smoke weed and say, 'James McBride said it's cool,'" author and jazz musician James McBride exhorted the 357 graduates in the steamy Amsler Campus Center on Saturday morning. "I mean that most of you have been through a lot ... I'm asking you to give yourselves the right to fail.
"What happens is you find out what you like to do and you do it and you do it and you fail at it and you keep doing it and, finally, you do it so well somebody decides to pay you for it," he said. "That's how it works."
In a 10-minute commencement address that bounced along like a jazz tune from sly references on race and class to world hunger to President Obama to the wonders of being young to love is all it takes, McBride had the audience in breaking out in laughter and applause at several points.
He urged to the graduates to "walk the Earth to show the beauty of American youth," youth not armed and in uniform; not to take the short route to the future but to take their time. "There's no such thing as a career ladder — life is an everwidening circle and, as you age, grows wider and wider."
Don't panic and rush off to graduate school or law school, he said. "This nation has enough frightened and dissatisfied yuppies living in gated communities ... ."
McBride, himself accomplished in a range of artistic endeavors, among them musical composition, journalism, fiction and screenwriting, told the graduates that, like a jazz musician who's spent years studying before playing his or her first solo, their liberal arts education has prepared them for that moment. "You will produce because you have to."
It was theme that Catie Lachapelle, president of the class of 2009, picked up as well. The Holland resident, who received her bachelor's degree in sociology, spoke of her experiences at the college, her first fears, her mentors professors Sumi Colligan and Michelle Ethier, and the support she and her peers had received from family and friends.
"I am not here today to tell you to go do what you feel you have to do. This is one thing that you did do and I can guarantee you will never regret getting your college education," she said, adding the graduates should go out with their heads held high. "I am going to walk out those doors, a college graduate, starting my journey to become who I really am."
Brendan Sheran, a sociology teacher at Pittsfield High School who received his master's in education degree, delivered remarks on behalf of the 41 other master's graduates. Teachers should be guides, he said, who share their experiences and allow their students to explore. "Some of the most salient moments in teaching come from places that cannot be standardized."
He urged his fellow instructors to mindful of the outside pressures — political, ideological — often brought to bear on education and "that our voices are equal in the education debate."
Labor and Workforce Secretary Suzanne M. Bump brought greetings and congratulations from Gov. Deval Patrick. She praised what President Mary K. Grant had done in her time at MCLA, saying Grant had "captured, integrated and advanced the essential elements of a 21st-century education."
"This is a degree for a lifetime," she told the graduates.
Before conferring 304 bachelor's degrees, 42 master's of education degrees and 11 certificates of graduate study, President Mary K. Grant introduced college trustees and others to the audience and thanked six who are retiring from the college: history professor Clark Billings, Joseph Arabia from the facilities department, William Caprari from the athletics department, English and communications professor Robert Bishoff, professor of interdisciplinary studies Marc Goldstein, and Vice President of Academic Affairs Steven Green.
Green was also honored for his 36 years at the college and his long service to the community at large with the President's Medal, which was first awarded in 2007 to Attorney General Martha Coakley, a North Adams native.
Also honored was Brian K. Fitzgerald, a 1975 graduate of the college who was awarded an honorary doctor of public service. Fitzgerald is executive director of the Business-Higher Education Forum.
Sarah "Sally" Goodrich, an instructor in the North Adams Public Schools, was awarded and honorary doctor of humanities in recognition of the school and educational initiatives she has pursued in Afghanistan in the name of her son, Peter Goodrich, who was killed when United Airlines Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center.
McBride, who received an honorary doctor of fine arts, pointed to the Goodriches as an example of what love could do through a son "who pushed his parents to greatness."
"Thank you for what you've done," he said, turning to Goodrich, who was seated behind him, "but really thank you for teaching your son to love, because in his too-short life his love was a force that moved the world.
"The true test of whether we have been successful in this life lies not in what we have given this world professionally, but in the amount of love we've left in our wake."
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
Comments are closed for this article. If you would like to contribute information on this article, e-mail us at info@iBerkshires.com