Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash provided the commencement address. See more photos here.
LENOX, Mass. — Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash turned his back on the crowd on the stage at Tanglewood Friday night, pulled out his phone, and snapped a selfie.
Behind him sat 271 soon to be college graduates with hands in the air, looking up at the camera, cheering and laughing at the selfie. It worked. It lightened up the crowd. It was a fan favorite.
But Ash already knew it would be. He's done the same things in a number of settings across the Commonwealth. And he freely admitted that wasn't the first time because it is a perfect example of doing "more of what works and less of what doesn't."
"You've been doing more of what works and look at how you've succeeded. And whether or not you know it, you've always been doing less of what doesn't work like putting off your education, toiling, living only in the moment. You've overcome much, some more than others but all of you something. That says you have and continue to have the ability to do more of what works. More of what works set you up for successful careers or higher educational advancement," Ash said.
That was the theme of Ash's commencement address to the students. At the college's 58th commencement at Tanglewood Friday evening, 214 associate degrees were handed out, 71 certificates, over 32 programs of study offered at the college were handed out those students who had put the work in to become college graduates.
Alexander Griffith was one of those graduates. At age 8, he got Lyme disease and later he developed twitches. He had no control over muscle tics and it made it difficult for him to read and write. He was later diagnosed with Aspergers which led him to struggle socially.
But, Griffith has a message for his fellow graduates.
"Do not let yourself be defined by limitations you cannot control but be limitless in the things that enrich your life," he said.
From that stage in his life, he was homeschooled and there he received a classical education that instilled in him the incentive and belief to go beyond his boundaries.
"My parents encouraged me to be limitless in passion," Griffith said.
He found languages, theater, and gardening and that enriched his life, he said. And then we went to Berkshire Community College.
"College had a lesson for me and that lesson was how to be limitless in learning," he said.
There his professors helped him and taught valuable lessons about all of the subjects. For Friday, the commencement wasn't the end, it wasn't another limit. For Griffith and all of the students, it was the start of new and better beginnings.
"BCC is like a garden and we students are like the crop. When we first arrived at college we were like little seeds, young and eager to grow. With nurturing and loving care from our professors and fellow students we have grown to become healthy plants in bloom. The fruits of our labor and the veggies of our willpower is now ripe for harvest. From this day forward, let us not be forgetful of what we have gained from our college education. Let us be limitless in giving, giving of our knowledge, giving of our time, and giving of our skills," he said.
A total of 271 students received degrees and certificates.
Griffith, the school's valedictorian, will now move on to UMass to further his study of linguistics - he has studied some 30 languages already and is fluent in many - and anthropology with hopes of starting a career as a language surveyor, someone who documents undiscovered languages.
Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Maura Delaney described Griffith as "masterfully curious." She reflected on how curiosity in stories tends to be negative. But, she said, curiosity is what drives people to be at their best.
"You have all railed against the warnings. You have questions and you want them answered. You have dreams and you want them fulfilled. You're at best at home, in the classroom, and on your job when you are curious," she told the crowd.
"Statements like 'I don't have the time to think very deeply about that question. I'm too tired to learn the intricacies of that guitar riff. I'm just going to hand this lab in, I don't know why my hypothesis didn't work. I've been doing this job for so long, I know all the things to know. These are the things of the incurious mind. When that happens, our lives become void of color, interest, and pleasure. And we notice we become duller and dimmer...
"You, my friends, are far from dim and far from becoming duller. You curious to a fault. That curiosity will take you places you've never seen and insight you've never accepted. My wish for you is that you never know complacency."
Delaney delivered those remarks to introduce Griffith to the stage. But shortly after, she was invited back to be given the President's Award from BCC President Ellen Kennedy.
That curiosity and that limitlessness are what Ash meant by the things that work. The BCC students had taken to those ideas and are now in better position to take open jobs and contribute to society.
"Employers are not only waiting for you, they need you to grow their businesses and continue to contribute to the vitality of the commonwealth. What you've accomplished here puts you in a better position to accept so many challenges and contribute to their solutions," Ash said.
"You haven't achieved what you are celebrating by doing less. Unless you are doing less of what doesn't work. So do more of what works for your communities and make them more special. Do more of what works for the institutions around and make them more impactful. Do more of what works in your professions and for your employers and make them more vibrant. Do more of what works for your families and make them more proud."
Reflecting on some of his accomplishments on Beacon Hill, Ash advised the graduates to compartmentalize and take on big problems one small bit at a time and to continue to invest in themselves.
And with those words, the students were then asked to rise, walk across the stage, and receive their degrees from Board of Trustees Chairwoman Darlene Rodowicz.
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