Senior Class President Elizabeth Mullen leads the graduates through the gates; MCLA trustees Chairman Tyler Fairbank honors Diane Patrick.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The graduates of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts were handed the keys to a multitude of doors on Saturday, along with some encouragement to "squeeze the bottom of an ant" should the need arise.
Commencement speaker Diane Patrick, wife of Gov. Deval Patrick, said MCLA was special place to her because of the efforts of its President Mary Grant, faculty and trustees in championing a liberal arts education for students from across a diverse spectrum.
"This one recognizes that a degree that opens doors is not just a given," she told a crowded Amsler Campus Center on Saturday morning at the college's 114th commencement ceremony. "This one recognizes the struggles large and small ... ."
Patrick was presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree. Also recognized were Bennington (Vt.) College President Elizabeth Coleman, Soldier On President John "Jack" Downing and medical researcher Mardi Crane-Godreau, an assistant professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and a 1998 graduate of MCLA.
The college awarded 427 degrees and certificates under tightened security and despite an errant bird that had found its way in.
Grant took a moment to remember the bombings in Boston on Patriots Day. She thanked the faculty and staff for their efforts in supporting the graduates and told the class of 2013 they had made her charge to them easy.
"Go and make a difference ... make a difference every day on how you choose to face the day and how you treat others," she said. "I ask you all to be courageous."
The state's first lady spoke of a trip her family had taken to Australia, during which she'd made extra effort to interest her daughters in strange flora and fauna on one venture.
The guide, however, "told us stop looking at the forest and start looking into the forest," said Patrick, to stop looking at the obvious and seek out the small and hidden things within the vines. "He told us to pick up these teeny little yellow ants and to squeeze their bottoms and taste what came out ... a very interesting lemony taste.
"I think this place encourages us to open our eyes and minds, to see and hear and think about things in different ways."
Patrick, an attorney from a middle-class Brooklyn, N.Y., home, went to a similar public institution — Queens College in New York. Following in her mother's footsteps as an elementary schoolteacher, she found herself working in some of the toughest schools in Queens, where resources were scarce and expectations low. "Where little is expected, usually little is achieved."
They were not dissimilar to the schools her husband attended in the South Side of Chicago, she said, and it would be education in the form of a scholarship to Milton Academy in Massachusetts that would change his life in a way that was "life-saving and pathbreaking."
"Education can be a powerfully transformative experience if you let it be," Patrick said. Education would create the keys by which her husband would rise to governor and with she would continue her pursuit of law degree, as well as be the first in her immediate family to graduate college. "It opened a huge door for him that led to so many other doors."
Life isn't always easy, she noted, giving some examples of personal and professional obstacles: "You just have to power through those tough moments."
"I want to encourage this class to open your eyes and minds to new ventures to not be afraid of closed doors or doors that seem too unusual, too different or too foreign," said Patrick. "To take risks to step through and see wants behind those doors. ... to understand that not every door is the right one for you and to feel free to walk out that door and walk in another one."
J.Cottle and Tyler Prendergast are ready for the future. See more photos here.
For Hoosac Hall friends Juwonni W.A. Cottle and Tyler Prendergast, MCLA did open their eyes and minds — and show them a couple different doors.
Cottle found his interest in music rejuvenated — enough to help form the award-winning Allegrettos a capella group — and kindle a desire to use art as way to inspire learning.
"There was a freedom here that really allowed us to find out what we wanted to do," said the Bostonian, who earned a degree in interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in music and arts management. "A freedom to do something with what we learned, to really go in-depth."
Cottle is still sending our resumes and waiting for the graduation to sink in.
"It hasn't hit me yet, my mind is still catching up," he said. "It's been a great ride."
Prendergast, of Saugus, enrolled in English but ended up double-majoring in theater and envisions a future of teaching or performing the Bard.
"I never thought I would want to do Shakespeare," he said. "It completely changed my life."
For now, he's sticking close to the stage through his skills in graphic design with the New Repertory Theater.
Past City Council candidate Catherine "Catt" Linehan Chaput of Leominster is planning a career in public service. She's already got a few campaigns under her belt, including her own in 2011. Her mother, Mary, called her decision to run for office at such a young age "gutsy."
"I like that the faculty made sure to tell me to keep in touch so I know that they care about me," said Chaput of her time at MCLA. "It was a perfect fit for me. College is what you make of it."
Prendergast and Cottle are planning to stay in touch but endings are inevitably bittersweet. Prendergast admitted to choking up when fellow Hoosac dorm mate Elizabeth "Lizzie" Mullen, class president, shed some tears over leaving her "second home" and college family.
"Some days there will be fog, some days the road will seem to disappear beneath us," she told her classmates from the podium. "Some days it will feel like you're alone on the journey, some days it will look like there is no horizon
"But do not despair, do not be afraid ... It is important that we remind ourselves the fog is not permanent."
The graduates' journey will never be really alone, said Mullen, because of the college community and friendships they've formed. "You are the sunshine that melts aways the fog."