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MCLA graduates gather on the lawn after the first in-person commencement in three years.
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Isaiah Moore, community development assistant for the town of Adams, and North Adams Assistant City Clerk Joshua Vallieres were among the graduates.
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MCLA Holds First In-Person Commencement in Two Years for Class of 2022

By Brian RhodesiBerkshires Staff
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Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago gives the keynote address in the Amsler Campus Center. See more photos here.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago applauded the new graduates of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for completing their degrees despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"At any other time, your achievement would simply be celebrated, which would be the end of it. But this is no ordinary time . . . You have succeeded in your quest amid the most convulsive circumstances that we can remember," Santiago said.  

Santiago was the keynote speaker at MCLA's 123rd commencement ceremonies on Saturday, receiving an honorary doctorate in public service. The event marked the first time the college has held festivities in-person in three years. Graduates and family members filled the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium, utilizing the provided fans as the spring temperatures topped 85 degrees.

"When you began your college career and MCLA, the term COVID have never been uttered. When you began your college career, you didn't have to mask up unless you were doing open heart surgery or were planning to rob a bank," he said. "When you began your college career, you could engage in online and remote learning if you wanted to, not because you had to ... This is what you have lived over the past two years; this is what you have overcome to reach your academic goals. I salute you."

Santiago drew several parallels between his time as a student in the 1970s and the struggles students face today. He said it is good to see a positive outlook from many students, despite the difficulties they have faced during the last few years.

"I thought we were going to change the world, and we did. But we created some messes along the way that a lot of you have now inherited," he said. "But as I look out, and as I talk to students, you share the optimism that many of us had a students. You share it. And that gives me a real sense of hope."

There is still much work to be done, Santiago said, to improve higher education in the state.

"Over the last few years, we saw what was unheard of in higher education when I was an undergraduate or graduate student," he said. "Today's students report greater food insecurity, more homelessness. I learned the term help surfing from community college students at Bunker Hill Community College when I first began in this job."

Students were expected to be college ready, he said, but now college's have to also be "student ready."

MCLA President James Birge also spoke to the challenges this class of students have faced in his remarks. He said COVID-19 disrupted many aspects of student experiences, both in and out of the classroom.

"All of these activities and so many more were complicated by the pandemic. Yet, you persevered," he said. "You were courageous; you were strong. You were innovative, thoughtful, caring. You were persistent. The accomplishments you have made have left an indelible mark on the faculty and staff, on the board of trustees, and on me, that we will never forget."

Class President Kennedy Sobon of Schuylerville, N.Y., and master's candidate Temesgen Araya spoke for the class of 2022.

Araya, earning his master of business degree, said his student experiences helped him reflect on issues exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years.

"We had a few classes that really play a practical role describing the vast array of issues with the workforce, such as business ethics sustainability, social responsibility, and managing and leading," he said the director of dining services at Williams College. "I challenge all of us as the future workforce ... to create an environment that is nurturing, caring, thoughtful, equitable and inclusive. We have an opportunity to learn from the past and the present to create a better future not because we must because we want to and because we can't do what others will not today."

His address received a standing ovation. 

Sobon, earning her degree in psychology, said graduating is the beginning of a new chapter for the class of 2022.

"Leaving here today, it is our responsibility to create and spread this magic we've acquired from MCLA into every room we walk into," she said. "I feel confident when I say we all have the ability to do this."

MCLA conferred 248 of degrees on Saturday, including 193 undergraduate degrees.

In addition to Santiago, the college awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters to former MCLA Trustee Susan Gold and honorary doctors of public service to former Mayor Thomas Bernard and Santiago. 

Birge sent the graduates off by urging them to continue learning and growing as they live their adult lives.

"All of you have changed in one way or another, which is exactly what a liberal arts education is intended to do. You are now ready to learn even more about yourselves, your careers and the world," he said.

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