Class President Hawa Umarova carries an American flag to lead the class of 2012 into the Amsler Campus Center for commencement exercises.Robert Rabil, class of 1987, was awarded an honorary doctor of humanities. See more photos here.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts class of 2012 on Saturday was called to adhere to the principles of Jefferson and the courage of Rosa Parks.
"You are standing now on the cusp of profound challenges unfolding in unpredictable ways in our world, from the rise of China as a global power to the fiscal crisis in Europe to the spread of Arab revolutions in the Middle East ... ," said Robert Rabil, director of graduate studies and associate professor of Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University, in his commencement speech to the graduates and parents seated in the Amsler Campus Center. "Who is better prepared to help effect the right changes here and abroad than you? You are the new generation of leaders."
Amidst a flutter of fans and an impromptu vuvuzela section that accompanied some graduates to the stage, the college awarded 380 degrees and certificates to a class that Rabil said had been prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead.
It was at MCLA that the 1987 graduate and Lebanese immigrant would find the support and critical skills that would make him successful.
"It was my first home in my new homeland, the United States, the greatest country in the world," he said to applause. It was within walls of what was then North Adams State College that he was struck by Thomas Jefferson's statesmanship, ingenuity and humanity, and the manifest destiny which set the new nation's path geographically, socially and politically.
But Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and a slaveholder, was ever at odds with the contradictions between his head and his heart, not unlike the nation itself, said Rabil. "I cannot act on Jefferson's principles without internalizing Parks' courage."
"There is a Rosa Parks in all of us that we need to bring to life," he said. "Be courageous and take a stand in the face of adversity to uphold your dignity and right your place in society."
It was a challenge similar to that from another immigrant who had found a home within the MCLA community.
Hawa Umarova of Chelsea had come from war-torn Chechnya and, too, found a community at MCLA that has helped her overcome a terrifying childhood. "If there is anyone who should have given up on life, and humanity, it is me."
"I have risen above all the evil I have witnessed in my earlier years," said the class president. "Life will throw things at you that you think you might not survive but it is of absolute importance that you believe in the power of your own self."
She told her classmates that if they set a goal, nothing can stop them from achieving it.
"If you dream a dream, there is nothing and noone in this world that can stop you from making it a reality. .... Never give up."
The graduates later marched from the Campus Center to the tunes of bagpipes to gather on the Smith House lawn for photos and final goodbyes.
Robert Mangiamele of Shoreham, N.Y., completed his degree in December but returned to walk across the stage with the full pomp and circumstance. "I wanted to graduate with my class," he said. "I wanted to see everybody."
Edward P. Damon Jr. said the feeling was both weird and satisfying.
Edward Damon Jr. and mom, Melissa Damon, after the ceremonies.
"I feel really accomplished," said the Rockland resident. "If I can do this, I can do anything."
Damon arrived four years ago not sure exactly what he wanted to do, other than get a degree in English. He ended his college career as editor of the MCLA Beacon and, while he's deciding his next step, will work at his father's package store and continue writing a newsblog with his older sister.
"I'm really proud of him," said mom Melissa Damon. "He really got involved and he made so many friends."
College President Mary Grant, conferring degrees for the 10th time at MCLA, stated uncategorically that recent talk that higher education was unnecessary was "utter and complete nonsense." She urged the graduates to do "daily, ordinary things extraodinarily well."
Rabil received an honorary doctor of humanities; also receiving honorary doctor degrees were Sandra Burton, the Lipp Family Director of Dance at Williams College; attorney and philanthropist Samuel H. "Sandy" Laitman, an MCLA Trustee Dr. Eugene Leibowitz.
Grant acknowledged the college's "golden graduates," including Alma Benedetti who graduated 75 years ago in the class of 1937. Anthony Tofani of Framingham, class of 2012, gave an effecting rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner." Graduates earned 333 bachelor of science or arts degrees, 28 masters of education degrees and 19 Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Educational Leadership.
Kristen Lewis of Clarksburg, speaking for the master of education scholars, told her classmates to "do what you do best — teach."
Rabil sent the class of 2012 off with this charge:
"Slough off complacency, naysay the naysayers and awake every morning believing it's a new day and a new beginning," he said. "Whereby your journey has been enriched by the lessons of your mistakes."
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