Commencement 2015

Advancing Social Justice and Education around the World

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Wheelock College held its tradition of two separate Commencement programs—a morning ceremony for undergraduates and an afternoon ceremony for graduate students—on Friday, May 15, 2015.

  • At the Undergraduate Ceremony, Wheelock awarded honorary degrees to three influential social justice advocates who embody the spirit of the undergraduate and graduate Commencement theme "Advancing Social Justice and Education around the World." Receiving honorary degrees were: Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, Mr. Lawrence O'Donnell, and Dr. Tiziana Filippini. Dr. Banda also served as Undergraduate Commencement Speaker. Read more about the Undergraduate Ceremony.
  • At the Graduate Ceremony, MSNBC Host and education activist Lawrence O' Donnell served as Commencement Speaker. Read more about the Graduate Ceremony.

Undergraduate Ceremony

The 224 members of Wheelock's Class of 2015—the College's largest-ever undergraduate graduating class—celebrated Commencement May 15 under sunny skies with a capacity crowd at Temple Israel in Brookline.

Undergrad 2015 Commencement"We have all survived an historic winter here in Boston. Back in February, when we were living through record snowfall, we longed for the New England Spring," President Jackie Jenkins-Scott told the graduates and their families. "We deserve a 100-percent-sun Commencement in 2015."

Graduate Emily St. Laurent '15 opened the ceremony by singing "Whenever You Remember" by Carrie Underwood. St. Laurent graduated with a degree in Developmental Psychology and Child Health.

Addressing the graduates, Jenkins-Scott said, "We have watched you mature with grace, elegance, and superb leadership skills. In these most troubling, challenging, and uncertain times, you have persisted. You have prevailed. You have stood up for what is right and you have been proactive advocates for social justice."

Graduate Alexandra Goyette '15 served as Undergraduate Student Speaker. Goyette was part of a committee that helped create Wheelock's new Environmental Studies major and is the first student to graduate with the degree. She also founded the College's first eco-club, Wheelock Students for Environmental Action. In her address, she reflected on her four years at Wheelock, saying, "I have had my ideals and beliefs challenged by faculty, other students, and most notably by myself. Professors at Wheelock have helped us confront what we consider to be our identities, our places in society, and our duties as human beings."


Undergrad Commencement 2015Two faculty members were honored during the ceremony:

  • The 2015 Cynthia Longfellow Teaching Recognition Award was presented to Martha Eshoo, Instructor of Human Development. The Longfellow Award is given annually to a non-tenured faculty member for distinguished teaching and a strong dedication to students.
  • The 2015 Edward H. Ladd Award for Academic Excellence and Service was presented to Dr. William Thompson, Association Professor of Elementary Education and coordinator of the Passion for Action Scholarship program. The Ladd Award is given annually to a tenured, senior faculty member to honor a career-long commitment to academic excellence and service at Wheelock.

The College also awarded its inaugural Presidential Award for Student Leadership:

  • The winner was Renee Saleh '15. Saleh graduated with Honors with a double major in Social Work and Arts. Selected from faculty nominations, the Presidential Award is given each year to a graduating senior to honor outstanding academic achievement. This year's winner was chosen from among 12 nominees.

Receiving Honorary Doctor of Education degrees were:

  • Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, who was the first female to be elected to the Presidency of her country, The Republic of Malawi, and the second female elected President in Africa. Voted as Africa's most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine for two years and voted as one of the most powerful women in the world, Dr. Banda is a champion for the rights of women, children, and the disabled and other marginalized groups.
  • Lawrence O'Donnell, who is a Television Host and an education advocate who uses his celebrity on behalf of children. O'Donnell, along with UNICEF, started the K.I.N.D. campaign (Kids in Need of Desks) to provide tens of thousands of desks to hundreds of schools in Malawi.
  • Dr. Tiziana Filippini, who has dedicated her life's work to the education of young children, teachers and families in her home community of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and throughout the world. Since 1978, Dr. Filippini has served as a pedagogista for the Municipality of Reggio Emilia.


Dr. Joyce BandaUndergraduate Commencement Speaker Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, former president of the Republic of Malawi, told the graduates, "I'm an African woman, a mother, a grandmother, but also a leader. I've taken many roles, businesswoman, politician, head of state, member of Parliament, and cabinet minister. I've been a foreign minister, vice president, and president. Through all these roles, I have had the opportunity to be an agent for change. The message I bring is that I want you to know that I didn't do it in a day. It's been a journey of 40 years. As you graduate, it is a shining day for you. It is a celebration of years of hard work...But the reason they call it commencement is that the goal today is not to celebrate the end of things but to celebrate the beginning of the rest of your life and career."

Banda told her story of growing up in a small village in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. She said her childhood best friend who, though "brighter than me," was unable to raise the $6 to continue in primary school and was forced to drop out. The friend married at age 15 and had a child; that first child recently died of AIDs. Banda was able to attend the best schools and eventually rose to become President of Malawi. "That is how unfair the world is," Banda said. "And I got angry then. And I used that anger throughout my life to send as many girls to school so they don't end up like my best friend."

Banda said, "I believe our future depends on empowering women, both in the household and at work."

She commended the graduates for choosing Wheelock, whose mission is to improve the lives of children and families, and told them: "Choose to be extraordinary. Choose to lead an extraordinary life. It is a choice....Today you leave here with plans about how you will get to your goal....Let me assure you that most of those plans will fail. But it's not the failure that's important, but the choice you make. Are you going to rise and run again on an alternative path, or are you going to lie there and feel sorry for yourself? Your journey starts today. Waiting for you is an extraordinary life if you are prepared to choose it."

Graduate Ceremony

Grad Commencement 2015The members of Wheelock's Graduate Class of 2015 celebrated Commencement on May 15 with a capacity crowd enjoying a lively ceremony in the Wheelock Family Theatre.

The ceremony opened with Stephanie Kilday '14/'14MS singing "I Was Here" by Lady Antebellum. Kilday graduated with a master's degree in Child Life and Family Centered Care.

President Jackie Jenkins-Scott said, "You, our graduates, are the proud torchbearers of the vision and legacy of [Wheelock College Founder] Miss Lucy Wheelock. Miss Wheelock was everything we aspire for you-a courageous, principled, hardworking professional. She was an idealistic visionary and a passionate leader. [She] was a strong advocate for children and families. And most importantly, a compassionate, passionate, caring, and sensitive human being who lived a life of integrity and authenticity ."

She told the graduates, "We hope that you leave Wheelock as courageous, passionate, and compassionate advocates for a just and better society."


Graduate Student Speaker Meghan E. Sullivan '15MSW told her fellow graduates that her Wheelock field placement experience at DOVE Inc. (Domestic Violence Ended) in Quincy, MA, changed her for the better.  "I felt inspired every day going in by the survivors I worked with, as well as the environment around the agency with co-workers. Wheelock gave me the opportunity to have this experience and for that I am truly grateful."

During her speech, Sullivan recalled what motivated her to complete her graduate degree: "I reminded myself of what brought me to Wheelock every single day and that I was tough enough to brave the darkness of society and live my life for others, to learn from experiences of others in the classroom, and allow them to inspire me and grow as a person and a professional."


The Graduate Commencement speaker was Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC Host of "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" and founder of the K.I.N.D. Campaign, which has provided thousands of desks to hundreds of schools in the Republic of Malawi.

O'Donnell told the graduates that when he worked with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Moynihan had what he called "the 30-year rule" that dictated that nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without a commitment of under 30 years. "Lucy Wheelock knew that you can't really do something important, something lasting, something to change the world in less than 30 years," O'Donnell said.

He gave the example of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt and the first woman to serve in the Cabinet. Perkins was the chief architect of the federal Social Security program in the 1930s, creating a roadmap to Constitutionality using the federal taxing authority after a discreet chat with a Supreme Court justice at a tea party. Over the ensuing decades, the same concept behind Social Security was used as a Constitutional basis for Medicare and the nation's new Affordable Care Act.

"The most important social programs in America are all based on what Frances Perkins discovered at a tea party," O'Donnell said. "She understood that 30-year rule. She made improving the lives of people in poverty her life's work....She built monuments that live after her, but none of them bear her name."

O'Donnell said the 30-year Rule applies to his work with the K.I.N.D. Fund. "We've delivered about 150,000 desks so far, and each one seats two students," he said. "If we keep up the pace we've been going at, it will take us 70 years to get desks for every student in Malawi. And that's just Malawi, which is one of the smaller African countries. That work is going to be there longer than I will be able to do the work, which is why I like talking to young people. We need that project to keep going."

O'Donnell praised the graduates for their dedication to serving other people, saying, "I want to be the first to thank you for your service. Don't ever expect to be thanked enough."

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