Leading with Passion and Courage
Friday, May 20, 2016
Commencement day is the highlight of the academic year. As is our tradition, Wheelock held two separate Commencement programs:
- 10:00 am Undergraduate Ceremony
- 3:00 pm Graduate Ceremony
Wheelock College was delighted to honor three Massachusetts leaders who have dedicated their lives to the service of others and who truly embodied our 2016 Commencement theme "Leading with Passion and Courage." Receiving honorary degrees were: Reverend Liz Walker, a minister, award-winning journalist, and activist for community healing and cross-cultural dialogue; Dr. Lisa Wong, a musician, pediatrician, and lifelong arts advocate; and Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread and one of the first and strongest voices to recognize hunger as a public health problem in low-income communities.
The members of Wheelock 's Class of 2016 celebrated Commencement under a cloudless blue sky with a capacity crowd at Temple Israel in Brookline. The 10 a.m. ceremony featured a keynote speech by minister, award-winning journalist, and community activist Reverence Liz Walker. Honorary degrees were bestowed up on Walker, Dr. Lisa Wong, a musician, pediatrician, and lifelong arts advocate; and Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread.
The undergraduate class kicked off the high-energy ceremony with a spoken word performance by graduate John Hathaway, who talked about the many struggles students overcame during their time at Wheelock. "What I've come to learn is that all that intersecting struggle comes an immense amount of intersecting support," he said. "Support to hold each other whenever we fall. Support to stand in solidarity, no matter the variety."
Said President Jenkins-Scott, "In these most troubling, uncertain and challenging times, you have persisted, you have prevailed, you have overcome adversity. You have stood up for what is right, you have been proactive advocates for social justice, here on our campus, and out in the world. Our Commencement theme, Leading with Passion and Courage, really describes you, Class of 2016."
Undergraduate Student Speaker Mynor Rosa, said, "We all have the ability to improve the lives of children and families, but how can we achieve such a feat if we cannot show empathy towards those that need us the most? How can we build bridges, if we are using planks that have holes in them? What can we do to answer the call of light from Dr. King? Now, more than ever, we must not be afraid to walk a mile in the shoes of others, for this saying was not made for the person you are comfortable with. Walk a mile with someone that disagrees with your political views, walk a mile with someone that is of a different identity or culture to understand how beautiful each and every single one of us are. If we want to bring change, we must begin to understand we are part of the same journey."
The College handed out the following 2016 Academic Excellence Awards:
- Cynthia Longfellow Teaching Recognition Award went to William Rodriguez, Assistant Professor and Chair of Juvenile Justice and Youth Advocacy
- Edward H. Ladd Award for Academic Excellence and Service Award went to Cheryl Render Brown, Associate Professor and Chair of Early Childhood Education
- Presidential Award for Student Scholarship went to Hannah Coughlan
Undergraduate Commencement Speaker
Undergraduate Commencement Speaker Reverend Liz Walker told the graduates, "Yes, there are many challenges. I sense your passion and your righteous indignation, but I want to tell you that you'd better pace yourselves. You are going to be fighting battles the rest of your life. But the world is getting better....This is a time of great peril, but it is also a time of great possibility and I believe you are prepared."
She said the one thing we need more than anything else is to practice grace. "Here's my definition of grace," she said. "If you go west, The Riverway out in front of this building becomes the Jamaicaway, where I live....Every day you see this traffic jam going into and out of the city, and every day, I'm at the mercy of the people (in their cars)....Whether I'm walking or in my car, nobody lets me in and everybody's angry....So my definition of grace, is just give somebody a break. That's all. Nobody deserves it, nobody is asking for it. But do it anyway."
"I want you to know that this is not just a kumbaya moment where we should all hold hands," Walker said. "Grace has worked in world history." She noted the 1990 statement of apology issued by the East German Parliament that admitted responsibility for the expulsion, humiliation, and murder of Jews and asked for forgiveness. "The fact that Germany and Israel have any relationship at all is because of this stunning act of international grace," Walker said. "I have been all over the world and I can tell you that it is not us against them, there is only us."
At the conclusion of her speech, Walker led the students and faculty in a surprise performance of "This Little Light of Mine" in honor of President Jenkins-Scott, who is stepping down in June after 12 years as Wheelock President. The song is a a long-time favorite of the President, who leads a singing of the song each year at the annual Senior Candle Lighting Ceremony. "I hope you will let your lights shine with grace," President Jenkins-Scott said at the performance's conclusion.
Wheelock's graduate students—many of them wearing brightly decorated mortar boards and the traditional colorful leis of the Nonprofit Leadership program—filed into the Wheelock Family Theatre for the 3 p.m. Graduate Commencement Ceremony.
The ceremony kicked off with a joyous performance by graduate Amy Gatlin '16MSW, who sang "Rise Up" by Andra Day.
President Jackie Jenkins-Scott praised all of the graduates for their hard work and sacrifice in balancing schoolwork with family, work, and many other commitments. "You, our graduates, have demonstrated your commitment to Wheelock's mission and values and to [founder] Lucy Wheelock's encouragement to each of us pursue a path of self sacrifice, self control, and universal cooperation," she said.
Graduate Student Speaker
Graduate Student Speaker Michelle Parsons '16MSW described overcoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol at the age of 21 and discovering a love of helping people. But she said that when she first arrived at Wheelock she was unsure if she was tough enough to really make a difference in the lives of the children and families she wanted to work with.
"What I know today,through everything that I have learned—both in the study of social work and in life—is that YES WE ARE TOUGH ENOUGH," Parsons said. "Every time I sat with a client who was dying while I interned in hospice and bore witness to their suffering, I was changing the world. And every single time I heard the experiences of my classmates who worked in the field, hospitals, DCF, outpatient clinics, nonprofits and the work they do
to promote positive change, I began to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be tough enough."
Graduate Commencement Speaker
Graduate Commencement Speaker Dr. Lisa Wong, a musician, pediatrician, author, and lifelong arts advocate, told the graduates that she grew up in Honolulu, where both her parents were the children of Chinese immigrants and the first in their families to go to college. Her father earned a law degree and was later appointed as the first Chinese-American federal judge in the U.S. Her mother was an elementary school teacher. Both parents instilled in all five of their children an appreciation for both education and music.
"Clear rules, structure, but with a sense of fun and a time for play—that's the recipe for lifelong learning," said Wong, who said her parents' approach launched her 50-year love affair with the violin. She joined a children's orchestra that traveled throughout the Hawaiian islands. "My violin, I found, was a change maker," she said. "My violin, the orchestra, and I traveled to other islands to play for schools where kids had never heard symphonic music."
During high school, the orchestra visited hospitals, where Wong said she learned how music can bring joy to children who were sick or in pain. By the time she left for college, she was determined to try to create a career path that somehow included music, education, health, and community service. She said she explored an opportunity to work as a pediatric cardiologist in a fast-paced ICU, but decided instead to become a family pediatrician and and founder of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra's "Healing Art of Music Program."
"I've come to understand and appreciate life's long view," she said. "In my practice, I care for children when they're born until they graduate from college. That is a privilege."
Wong urged the graduates to embrace the arts, no matter what field they choose. "Students of every age simply learn better through the arts; the playfulness, structure, and freedom of the arts are essential for all of us," she said. "A traumatized child may open up through a shared song. A non-verbal child may find her voice through drawing. The arts can't end with preschool curriculum. Incorporate the arts in every level."