Civil rights pioneer U.S. Rep. John Lewis urged Elms College's 521 graduates for 2015 to "help redeem the soul of America" so "we can serve as a model for the rest of the world."

Biology major Kenny Lockett greets U.S. Rep. John Lewis before commencement with Elms President Mary Reap.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis Urges Graduates to 'Be Bold'

The 521-student-strong Class of 2015 of the College of Our Lady of the Elms received diplomas at the college’s 84th commencement exercises at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 16, at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

The Class of 2015 includes 416 undergraduates. The college awarded 212 bachelor of arts degrees, 194 bachelor of science degrees, 97 master’s degrees and 8 certificates of advanced graduate study. This year’s class included the first psychology graduates and first RN-to-BS graduates in the bachelor’s degree completion program at Mount Wachusett Community College, as well as the first social work graduates in the bachelor’s degree completion programs at Greenfield Community College and in the Berkshires.

Commencement address: Rep. John Lewis

The commencement address was delivered by civil rights pioneer Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who was a keynote speaker at the March in Washington in 1963 and a leader of the march on Selma in 1965. Lewis also received an honorary degree.

He began his speech with words of thanks for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, who treated him in the Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, Alabama, after the violence on Bloody Sunday. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, who founded Elms College, are of the same order and share a mission of service with them.

“I must tell you it is almost too much to stand here,” Lewis said. “It is almost unreal, unbelievable, 50 years later, to come to this ceremony and to know the history of this college, Our Lady of the Elms College, and to be blessed with the presence of some of the SSJs -- if it hadn’t been for those sisters, those wonderful sisters -- I wouldn’t be standing here. Thank you.”

Lewis’ address focused on change: on the ways in which the country has changed since he grew up, on being inspired to create change, and on how the graduates must go out and change the world.

“In 1955, [at] 15 years old, in the 10th grade, I read about Rosa Parks, heard the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio,” Lewis said. “The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the actions of Rosa Parks inspired me to find a way to get in the way, inspired me to get in trouble. What I call good trouble. Necessary trouble. So I come to say to you, as you leave this wonderful college, that you must be bold, brave and courageous, and find a way to get in the way.

“You must get out there and do your best to leave this country, to leave this planet -- this little piece of real estate we call Earth -- a little greener, a little cleaner and a little more peaceful for generations yet unborn. That is your calling; that is your mission; that is your mandate.”

“You have a moral obligation -- a mission, a mandate -- to get out there, and push and pull and help redeem the soul of America,” Lewis added. “And if we can get it right here in America, maybe we can serve as a model for the rest of the world.”

Lewis’ speech was met with a standing ovation, along with words of praise. “I know that everyone in this audience and people around the country are so grateful to you for your courage, and for your witness,” said Mary Reap, IHM, Ph.D., the president of Elms College.

“The themes of your address echo the values and hope of this college community: the pursuit of justice and peace, caring for the poor and vulnerable, living your faith commitment to nonviolence, and witness to the hope of a better tomorrow,” Reap added. “We pray that your example of constant and consistent witness to these values will inspire these potential leaders of the next generation to live lives in service to others.”

Distinguished students

The Class of 2015 featured not one but two valedictorians: Meghan Goodrow of Sunderland, Mass., and Julianne Stasiowski of Chicopee. Samantha Layman of Ludlow, Mass., was the salutatorian.

Goodrow, a Communication Sciences and Disorders major who will enter a master’s program at UMass in the fall, spoke of an encounter her freshman year with a third grader with cerebral palsy who made her want to become a speech language pathologist. “I wanted to touch people’s lives in deep and profound ways, just as Gradie had done for me,” Goodrow told the graduates. “I wanted to leave my mark on this world while getting the opportunity to learn from amazing human beings who overcome so many challenges every single day.”

Stasiowski likened her college journey to climbing a mountain, and told classmates, “There are even higher peaks in our future and we now have the confidence, knowledge and experience to climb them.”

Faculty recognition

“Our college is constantly growing, offering greater options and opportunities to our students, and it’s our faculty who help guide that growth,” said Cynthia Lyons, chair of the board of trustees of Elms College, at a luncheon following the commencement ceremony.

Lyons highlighted recent accomplishments among the faculty, including the promotion of Dr. Kathleen Scoble, dean of the School of Nursing, to full professor; the promotion of both Dr. Nina Theis of the biology department and Dr. Beryl Hoffman of computer information technology to associate professor status, and awarding of tenure; the awarding of tenure to Dr. Jean Pelski ’89, assistant director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program; and the promotion of Dan Chelotti to associate professor in the English department.

 

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