NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The chairman of the Board of Higher Education will be the keynote speaker at the 115th commencement exercises at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Saturday, May 17, beginning at 11 a.m., in the Amsler Campus Center Gymnasium.
Charles F. Desmond, also an educator, and community and civic leader, will receive an honorary doctor of public service from the college.
Also receiving honorary degrees this year will be land conservationist Lila Berle, who will receive an honorary doctor of humanities; 1973 MCLA graduate Michael Christopher, former president and chief operating officer for Legacy Banks, who will receive an honorary doctor of public service; and Michael Conforti, director of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art
Institute, who will receive an honorary doctor of fine arts.
In recognition of their awards, the honorary degree recipients will have books placed in MCLA's Freel Library in their names.
President Mary K. Grant said she is pleased to recognize the achievements of these individuals.
"We look forward to hearing from Dr. Charles Desmond, who has dedicated his career to ensuring that Massachusetts' youth have access to a college education. We are honored to have him with us, along with Lila Berle, Michael Christopher and Michael Conforti," Grant said. "This year's honorees each have made so many important contributions to the commonwealth and to Berkshire County. The exceptional work accomplished by these remarkable individuals mirrors the expectations we have for the class of 2014, whose energy, enthusiasm and achievements we also will celebrate."
MCLA Board of Trustees Chairman Tyler Fairbank also commended those who will be honored.
"Dr. Desmond's dedication to the educational success of urban youth and his passionate belief in the liberal arts make him a great choice as this year's keynote speaker," Fairbank said. "As an ecologist dedicated to the land conservation in this region, Lila Berle has worked to preserve the history of the Berkshires. Through his work with Legacy Bancorp, Michael Christopher was instrumental in transforming several of Berkshire County's key financial institutions. And, under the leadership of Michael Conforti, the Clark has flourished as it has expanded its campus to increase its cultural impact not only on the region, but the world."
Desmond was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick in September 2008 to the Board of Higher Education and as chairman that December.
A Fulbright scholar, Desmond was executive vice president from 2002 to 2009 of the Trefler Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving educational opportunities and success for Boston's urban youth. At Trefler, he provided managerial oversight, advocacy and leadership on behalf of the foundation to strengthen partnerships with Boston Public Schools, and nourished collaborative initiatives between and among philanthropic institutions in order to enhance their impact on urban educational reform.
Prior to Trefler, Desmond worked for 30 years at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, with a focus on student affairs and community collaboration. He was an associate chancellor for school/community collaboration, vice chancellor for student affairs, director of the Department of Pre-Freshman Programs and project director of College Preparatory Program/Upward Bound, among other positions. He also was a guidance counselor at Northeastern University's African/American Institute and in the Boston Public Schools.
Active in civic and community organizations, he was president of AARP Massachusetts, and a member of the review committee for the Broad Prize in Urban Education, the Board of Governors for the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University, the Brown University Design Group/Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the Cambridge College Board of Trustees. He was co-chairman and executive director of the Urban Educators Corps, and is a past president of the Massachusetts Educational Opportunity Association. In addition, he has been active with the American Council on Education, and the National Council of Educational Opportunity Associations, among other organizations.
Desmond earned his doctorate in education in instructional leadership from the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a bachelor of science degree in sociology
from Northeastern University. He is a decorated Army veteran, recieving both the Silver and the Bronze stars.
Berle is a lifelong ecologist and farmer. She is dedicated to land conservation in the region, particularly the preservation of historic homes and view sheds at cultural institutions. She has established conservation easements on 850 acres in Monument Valley and on Monument Mountain in the Southern Berkshires.
She has been profiled recently as a leader in the farm-to-table movement. She has served as chairman or president of the boards of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Chesterwood, Edith Wharton Restoration, Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee and Bard College of Simon's Rock. She serves on the boards of The Mount, Berkshire South Community Center and Sculpture Now.
Berle was the first woman to serve as senior warden at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where she has been an active member for more than 50 years.
Farming and family are her passions and pulling lambs, and mowing and baling hay, are some of her favorite ways to spend a day. Berle has four children and 14 grandchildren, and some 800 sheep at Lila's Farm at 8 Locust Road in Great Barrington.
Christopher retired in 2007 as president and chief operating officer for Legacy Banks. In 1993, He became the chief executive officer of the former Lenox Savings Bank in 1993 and was instrumental two years later in forming The Trust Company of the Berkshires as a joint venture with the former City Savings Bank. The consolidations continued in 1999, as Lenox and City savings banks formed Legacy Bancorp, the first multibank mutual holding company in the country. The banks also merged in 1999, and the successor bank took on the new identity of Legacy Banks with Christopher as its president.
Subsequently, the original joint venture, The Trust Company, became the bank's investment management division, Legacy Portfolio Management. In 2005, Legacy Bancorp executed a successful initial public offering and became a public company, listed on NASDAQ as LEGC.
Christopher started his banking career in commercial lending and management with the former First Agricultural Bank, Bay Banks and Multibank. He attended numerous banking schools and courses over the course of his career.
He serves on the board of the MCLA Foundation and has been a trustee and chairman of the Berkshire Museum, trustee and president of the Lenox Library, and a former director of Berkshire Health Systems. A Navy veteran, he served in Panama and Vietnam.
Conforti has been the director of the Clark since 1994. Under his leadership, the Clark has expanded its collections as well as its special exhibition and research and academic programs.
Conforti also oversaw the planning for building expansion and the campus enhancement, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, that will open this July.
A trustee of the American Academy in Rome, the Association of Art Museum Directors, The National Committee for the History of Art and Comité International d'Histoire de l'Art), he also teaches at Williams College and is a regular lecturer and author of articles on sculpture and the decorative arts, museum history and practice, as well as institutional and private collecting in their social and cultural context.
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