Commencement Day 2017

May 19, 2017

Watch Videos: (Sen. Warren's full Commencement speech and an archive of the unedited live feed of the ceremony.)(Visit for full Commencement coverage. Edited videos and photos will be posted there early next week.)

Commencement 2017Commencement Speaker U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren urged the members of Wheelock College's Class of 2017 to become political advocates for the causes they care about, noting that "if you're not at the table, you're probably on the menu."

Warren told the graduates gathered in Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline that even though the political landscape has become "ugly and frustrating," it is more important than ever to make their voices heard in Washington.

"Our democracy depends on you," she said. "If democracy for you simply means leaving it to others and letting others set the terms of the political debate, and surrendering the policy decisions to people in faraway Washington, then our country will work better and better for a smaller and smaller number of people. But if democracy for you means connecting up, studying, making thoughtful decisions, and defending them with intelligence and commitment, then this country will flourish."

Warren peppered her remarks with several jabs at President Trump, though she never mentioned him by name:

  • Noting that Wheelock was founded in 1888 as a training school for kindergarten teachers, Warren said "People were taught to deal with unruly five-year-olds—we could really use that experience in Washington today."
  • After greeting students and their guests, Warren said, "According to the official White House crowd counters there are over 14 million people here today and I want to thank you all."
  • Warren noted Wheelock's location within walking distance of Fenway Park, Warren added, "The Green Monster is the only wall I would like to see in this country."

Warren said she accepted the invitation to be Wheelock's 2017 Commencement speaker in part because of the College's mission to improve the lives of children and families and the fact that many Wheelock graduates go into public service as educators, social workers, youth advocates, and nonprofit leaders.

"I wanted to be here in part because this was an opportunity to honor someone who changed my life: my second-grade teacher, Ms. Lee," said Warren. "One day, she took me aside and told me I could do something with my life. No one had ever told me that before....After Ms. Lee told me I could be a teacher, I saw myself differently."

Student Speakers

This year's undergraduate student speaker was Kyra Thomas '17, who earned a bachelor's degree in Psychology and Human Development. Thomas said it took a lot of courage to overcome obstacles and bouts of self-doubt on the way to earning her degree. "I pushed past my own expectations and did more than I thought I was capable of," she said. "Wheelock has given me the desire to inspire." She told her classmates that they were graduating with the skills they need to improve the world, saying, "We now have the skills to collaborate and create a positive change for children and their support systems....This degree is only now a piece of the gift that you're going to give the world."

The graduate student speaker was Wayne Peterson '13/'17MS, who earned his master's degree in Nonprofit Leadership and is also a member of Wheelock's Information Technology staff. Peterson appealed to his fellow graduates to use their education to advocate for others. "Now is the time to use our privilege to balance the scales," he said. "Knowledge is not something to be hoarded, but to be shared freely....The real safeguard of democracy is education."

Academic Excellence Awards

Wheelock President David Chard, presiding over his first Wheelock College Commencement Ceremony, presented the following 2017 Academic Excellence Awards:

  • Cynthia Longfellow Teaching Recognition Award recipient was Assistant Professor of Life Science Dr. Sara Levine. This award is given each year to a non-tenured faculty member to acknowledge and honor distinguished teaching.
  • Edward H. Ladd Award for Academic Excellence & Service Award recipient was Dr. Felicity Crawford, Associate Professor of Special Education. This award is given each year to a tenured faculty member who has demonstrated a career-long commitment to academic excellence and service at Wheelock.
  • Presidential Award for Student Scholarship recipient was Julia Paolino, who double-majored in Communications and Arts and served in a variety of student leadership roles. This award is given each year to a graduating senior to acknowledge outstanding academic achievement during his/her attendance at Wheelock.

See photos from Commencement on Instagram

About the 2017 Commencement Honorees

Senator Warren received an honorary degree along with two other remarkable leaders: Dr. Valora Washington and Pablo Javier Almaguer. The life's work of these three honorees are closely aligned with Wheelock's mission to improve the lives of children and families. Full bios of all three honorees are below.

Senator Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Warren, a fearless consumer advocate who has made her life's work the fight for middle class families, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012 by the people of Massachusetts. Recognized as one of the nation's top experts on bankruptcy and the financial pressures facing middle class families, she is widely credited for the original thinking, political courage, and relentless persistence that led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. President Obama asked her to set up the new agency to hold Wall Street banks and other financial institutions accountable, and to protect consumers from financial tricks and traps often hidden in mortgages, credit cards, and other financial products.

Prior to her election, Senator Warren was a law professor for more than 30 years, including nearly 20 years as the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. The graduating class at Harvard twice recognized her with the Sacks-Freund Award for excellence in teaching.

She has written more than 100 articles and 10 books, including three national best-sellers: A Fighting Chance, The Two-Income Trap, and All Your Worth. National Law Journal named her one of the most influential people in the world three times, and she has been honored by the Massachusetts Women's Bar Association with the Lelia J. Robinson Award. She is a graduate of the University of Houston and Rutgers School of Law.

Valora WashingtonDr. Valora Washington is President and CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, the nation's largest credentialing organization for early childhood educators. Throughout her career, Dr. Washington has co-created high-impact institutions targeting policy change in higher education and local, state, and federal government, including Michigan's Children, the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, and The CAYL Institute.

Frequently tapped for senior-level service, Dr. Washington served as Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Governor's School Readiness Commission, Board Chair for Voices for America's Children, Co-Chair of the National Head Start Association Commission, and as a member of numerous task forces and boards, including those of Wheelock College and the Boston Children's Museum. She was formerly a vice president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, vice president at Antioch College, associate dean at American University, and a tenured faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has co-authored or co-edited over 50 publications, including Children of 2020 and Ready or Not: Leadership Choices in Early Care and Education. She was selected for the prestigious Barr Fellowship in 2009 and has received professional recognition from Boston AEYC, National AEYC Black Caucus, United Way of Massachusetts Bay, and others. She was educated at both Indiana State University and Michigan State University.

Pablo Javier AlaguerPablo Javier Almaguer, Private Attorney Involvement Group Coordinator for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, has dedicated his career to the issues of domestic violence and employment/labor law. Born in Mexico, he migrated to South Texas at age five with his parents. He graduated in the top 5% of his high school class, obtained his BA in Political Science from the University of Texas-Pan American, obtained a law degree from Chicago-Kent School of Law, and became a naturalized citizen in 2004.

Just prior to graduating law school, Almaguer accepted an offer from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid to return to South Texas to work as a staff attorney at the Edinburg branch office and rose to Branch Manager. Today, he is part of the organization's senior management team, overseeing the program's pro bono efforts throughout a 68-county area.

He was the first legal services attorney to serve on the Board of Directors of the State Bar of Texas and in 2010 was elected as Chair of the Board, the first Mexican to serve in that capacity in the history of the bar. He currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for the Texas Civil Rights Project and as Vice-Chair of the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, which oversees the State Bar of Texas's disciplinary system.

Learn More

Download a press release about the Commencement honorees (pdf).

Visit the Commencement web page at

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