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Sharing Wisdom From Past Commencement Speakers

In anticipation of Commencement, we’re looking back at some of the distinguished speakers who’ve helped celebrate our graduates, and some of the wisdom they’ve shared. Their words ring true today, and provide great advice and encouragement for the Class of 2016.

Commencement is Saturday, May 14. Get the schedule, information about speakers and more here.

Martha Coakley, former  Attorney General of Massachusetts, former gubernatorial candidate

Martha CoakleyCoakley, who grew up in North Adams and graduated from Drury High School, addressed graduating seniors in 2007. The Massachusetts Attorney General from 1999-2007, then again from 2010-2014, delivered an “ABCs for MCLA graduates” that ended with “Z for Zamboni”—explaining that phrases like “I’m sorry” and “let’s work together” are a “personal Zamboni” for smoothing out tough situations.

"The future belongs to those who can think and who can feel," she told the Class of 2007. "Use your imagination and dreams to build your future."

Derrick Z. Jackson, award-winning Boston Globe columnist and author

Derrick Z. JacksonA 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist who’s also known for his nature photography, Jackson delivered 2015’s keynote address. He talked about experiences with racism while growing up in Missouri, and reminded students to hold on to their sense of identity and to “challenge the world.”

Jackson, whose son Tano Holmes graduated from MCLA, told the Class of 2015, “You should feel darn good about yourselves. …Some schools claim you can find a top career through them. MCLA allowed my son to find himself.

U.S. Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy

Ted KennedyA sitting U.S. Senator for Massachusetts until his death in 2009, Kennedy delivered MCLA’s Commencement address in 2006. He told graduates to take hold of opportunities presented to them in a changing world economy, and to keep giving back to their communities:

“You don't have to make a headline to change things. In our country today and in nations throughout the world, young Americans are doing worthwhile things. They are people whose names you may never know, whose pictures you may never see, whose deeds you may never read about — young physicians bringing health care to people and places that never had a doctor —  young teachers bringing knowledge and opportunity to children who never had a chance before — young business men and women bringing new enterprises to inner cities and rural farms, ending poverty and neglect."

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State

Kerry spoke to graduates in 2008 while he was a U.S. Senator for Massachusetts. He’s  now the U.S. Secretary of State.  Here’s part of what he told the graduating class in his Commencement address:

"You have to transform your action, your sense of right and wrong. You have to give life to the notion that Ben Franklin challenged us all to embrace when he walked down those steps at [Independence Hall at the Constitutional Convention of 1787] after they deliberated and a woman came up to him and said, 'Tell us Dr. Franklin, what do we have — a monarchy or a republic?' And he looked at her and he said, 'A republic, if you can keep it.' Our job is to keep it.”

James McBride, author and musician

James McBrideThe author of “The Color of Water,” and writer for publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post delivered MCLA’s Commencement address in 2009. He urged students to “get out there and fail,” saying:

"What happens is you find out what you like to do and you do it and you do it and you fail at it and you keep doing it and, finally, you do it so well somebody decides to pay you for it," he said. "That's how it works. …There's no such thing as a career ladder — life is an ever-widening circle and, as you age, [it] grows wider and wider."

Diane Patrick, former first lady of Massachusetts

Diane PatrickPatrick, a partner at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray and the wife of former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, shared her experience with depression and urged 2013 graduates to push through hard times.

The Commencement ceremony “recognizes the struggles large and small that each of you has had to deal with, as well as the strength and determination of each of you,” she told students. "You just have to power through those rough moments. You have to take risks, you have to walk through those new doors to discover who you are and what's possible."