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Simmons Graduate Commencement Ceremony 2016: Full Ceremony

Simmons Graduate Commencement Ceremony 2016: Full Ceremony

Good afternoon! My name is Regina Pissa, I’m the chair of
the board of trustees for Simmons College. I welcome you to Simmons’s 111th commencement
ceremony. 110 years of Simmons graduates. That is a wonderful record. We congratulate and honor the doctoral and
masters degree and certificate candidates graduating here today. As well as all of you, family and friends,
whose labor and love made this day possible for our graduates. I would particularly like to recognize the
families of the graduate who have often made significant sacrifices to make today possible. Would the family members of our graduating
students please rise? (cheering) Thank you. Now everyone can sit down. The pursuit of learning is one of the oldest
of human endeavors. In fact, these commencements exercises origins
in ancient rituals. Members of our college community are clothed
and capped hoods and gowns, a tradition which evolved from academic costumers worn by faculty
and students to keep warm in the drafty classrooms in colleges in medical Europe. The colors of robes and hoods signify the
degree earned by the wearer as well as the institution that granted the degree. The trustees of Simmons are proud of your
many many accomplishments. We are confident you will carry the name of
Simmons into your professions and communities with distinction, dignity, and pride. Congratulations. (applause) Now please join me in welcoming
Helen Drinan, the eighth president of Simmons College. (applause) Thank you Regina and good afternoon to everyone. We are thrilled that we have such a beautiful
day for this event and it looks like we have very many young, young children and babies
and we’re thrilled for that, so it’s a great day. I’m delighted to add my congratulations to
you, our graduates, and your families. You have made us all proud your scholarship. You’re so intelligent, idealistic, and successful
and we know that those characteristics combined with your Simmons degree will serve you well
as you continue your studies or begin your careers. I know you will do your part to create a better
future for all of us. Simmons is awarding 1000 degrees today and
will have awarded 1500 degrees during this academic year. At this ceremony, I will confer your degree
on behalf of the trustees and our faculty. Thank you to our commencement planning team
and all of our commencement volunteers. Please stand while Danica Buckley, music director
leads the audience in singing “America the Beautiful”. (singing “America the Beautiful”) We will now proceed with the conferring of
honorary degrees. Simmons is proud this afternoon to honor two
distinguished individuals. They will be presented by Professor Jeffrey
Turner chief Marshall. I present to you for the degree “Doctor of
Public Service” Robert Lewis Jr. There may be no other individual who has done
more for inner city youth in the city of Boston than you, Robert Lewis Jr. With an infectious, outgoing personality and
a deep personal commitment to improving lives of young people. You are equally at ease in the board room
and on the streets. Growing up in the projects of Boston, you
can speak to the struggles young, inner city youth face today because you lived it. You recognize the profound impact sports can
have on at risk youth and in 1978 you founded Boston Astros. A baseball team and enrichment program at
the villa Victoria housing project in the South End. That led you on a professional journey to
City Year, the Boston Foundation, Street Safe, and now the Base. Throughout your career path, you never forgot
where you came from and remained grounded in your community work. Robert Lewis Jr., you are a community treasure
beloved by everyone who meets you and respected by those who simply know your name. In honor of your four decades of leadership,
mentorship, and commitment to the young people of the city of Boston, Simmons College is
proud to bestowed one you, Robert Lewis Jr., the degree of Doctor of Public Service honoris
causa. (applause) I present to your for the degree of Doctor
of Public Service, Judy Norseein. To understand the impact you have had on women
in America, one has to first understand what times were like in the early 1970’s. There were no laws prohibiting gender discrimination
in education, college sports, or financial credit applications. There were no laws that banned employment
discrimination against pregnant women. Abortion was illegal. As was other forms of birth control. It was a time when women all over the nation
were standing up, raising their voices, and fighting for their rights. You co-authored “Our bodies, ourselves” in
1970 and the impact of this text still reverberates today near 50 years after its release, having
sold millions of copies worldwide and undergoing its 11th edition just 5 years ago. “Our Bodies, Our Selves” was the formative
text. “Our Bodies, Our Selves” was the formative
text for sexual liberation and expression while also being an important health resource
for women that had never before been available. Your book had a profound impact socially,
empowering women to take ownership over their health decisions while also providing biological
information to millions of women around the world, improving their overall health. You have never stopped advocating for raising
awareness and understanding of women’s health, sexuality, and civil rights. It is for your life’s work as women’s health
educator and advocate that Simmons College is proud to bestow on you a degree of Public
Service honoris causa. (applause) So now as Judy is ready, I will present her
to deliver the afternoon commencement address. Judy. (applause) Thank you so much President Drinan and all
of you here at Simmons. I’m actually accepting this degree on behalf
of all the founders. It is truly an honor to join you today and
to celebrate with you and your many accomplishments. I have great admiration for Simmons and I’m
deeply moved to be receiving an honorary degree from an institution that has cared so much
about our society’s ongoing struggles to achieve social, economic, and racial justice. It is no accident that “our bodies, our selves”
where I worked for more than four decades had multiple opportunities for collaboration
and cooperation for the wonderful faculty and students here. You should all be proud of valuable advanced
degrees you have earned and now the challenge will be how to figure out how to best take
your new skills and knowledge out there into this troubled world, one that needs lots of
ministry. Even if you already have a job ready and waiting
for you, you may still need to find ways to make that work both satisfying and relevant. Though I believe that one size doesn’t fit
all in the arena of advice giving, there are certainly a few insights gained from my own
experiences that seem worth sharing today. I hope that some of these eight pieces of
advice will resonate with you. First, try not to go it alone. Whatever you choose to do, find allies along
the way. Though we all have to do solo problem solving,
it would often be more satisfying and fun to work in groups as part of a team with a
shared goal. Yes, that does mean that sometimes your hard
work and key contribution as one person may be overlooked when there is a collective success,
but it also means that you don’t always bare the sole responsibility for failures either. I believe that one of the reasons that “Our
Bodies, Our Selves’ had such staying power for four and a half decades is precisely because
the founders as well as the staff and board members who join the organization along the
way recognize the value of such collaboration. Tough at times? Sure, no group exists without conflict and
sometimes we have to take a step back because it is not possible to achieve respectful listening
or to bridge enormous idealogical differences, but I do believe it is worth trying. Our classic text about women’s health, now
in its 9th edition, was possible only because our group hung in there through all the hard
stuff too. Even with the challenge of collective writing,
we benefited so much from one another’s different experiences and perspectives and that made
the text more universal in its appeal as well. Whether or not you face setbacks in your own
attempts at collaboration, remember that new doors always open after other doors may need
to be closed. Second, throughout your life, look for volunteer
learning opportunities because of the ongoing commitment to service learning at Simmons,
many of you are already aware of how rewarding this can be. As a board member of community works, the
Boston area social justice fund that supports more than 30 local, community based organizations. I found ways to be useful to a number of these
groups to help them better serve the community. In one instance, this took the form of helping
teen voices organize chat sessions around nutrition and reproductive health for inner
city high school students while at the same time helping them to gain writing and editing
skills. I am sure that you too will find such satisfying
volunteer work in your own spheres. And by the way, though the print version of
this great magazine no longer exists, two years ago, women’s e news took over the online
production of teen voices. Do check it, it’s fabulous. During the 1980’s, my own organization was
especially fortunate to have librarians and physicians across the country volunteer their
support for the book “Our Bodies, Our selves” amidst dozens of efforts to ban the text in
schools and libraries everywhere, calling it “humanistic garbage” or “obscene trash”. Without that support, who knows what would
have happened, especially to young people’s access to this kind of vital information. This is also a reminder that though your work
may be rejected or even ridiculed by some, it may well be embraced and celebrated by
others. Third, be aware of conflicts of interest and
how sources of funding might compromise the accuracy of information you see in ads, research,
and other knowledge products. In the arena of women and health, we can point
to many examples where public policy decisions did not follow the best available evidence
largely because well moneyed interest could carry out successful PR campaigns that drowned
out those advocating for more science based policies. Last year’s FDA decision to approve flibanserin,
the so-called viagra like drug for women, of course the drug doesn’t work at all like
viagra, is a good case point that cleverly orchestrated publicity campaigns by sprout
pharmaceuticals do in some female members of congress and even when so far as to smear
FDA scientists conscientiously doing their job, calling them sexists who are not sensitive
to women’s problems and needs. Fortunately, thus far this drug has not been
selling well possibly because so many women have sought out more balanced and accurate
information about the actual risks and benefits of this drug. This is one of the key reasons that advocacy
groups like “Our Bodies, Our Selves”, ones that don’t accept funding that could compromise
the integrity of what they do, are so important. And despite how much we all think ourselves
impervious to influence by our funding sources, the vast majority of us will eventually avoid
biting the hand that feeds us. Fourth, travel if you can to other countries
or at the very least, learn what you can from other regions of the world. Though we can point to many extraordinary
accomplishments in this country, there is also much to learn elsewhere. Countries have tackled problems in creative
ways. In Canada, for example, where midwives attend
home births and are completely integrated into the maternity care system and transfers
from home to hospital occur in much more timely and orderly fashion. Birth outcomes for lower risk child baring
women are essentially the same regardless of the place of birth in that country. I mention this because we share a lot with
our neighbor to the North, but we have yet to implement similar systems here despite
evidence of their potential benefits. And unfortunately, mainstream media coverage
of free standing birth centers and home births in the US is largely misleading and inaccurate,
so you have to look harder for the evidence based information. Fifth, every now and then stop and think about
why and how you do the things you do. Whether in your professional or personal lives. When the second women’s movement got going
in the late 60s and early 70s, many women who participated in consciousness raising
groups began to look more closely at their lives and started to ask questions about why
they were excluded from certain educational and professional opportunities, why their
spouses didn’t participate in doing household chores or caring for their children, why they
were not allowed any leadership roles with an organization seeking peace or racial justice,
why there was so much silence around the reality of rape and violence in their communities,
and why there was no information or attention to their own sexual pleasure as women. Looking more closely at the power dynamics
between lovers, between spouses, between doctors and patients, between lawyers and clients,
between clergy and laity. In doing this together, as a group consciousness
raising effort led directly to the organizing within the women’s movement that sought for
changes both inside legislative halls as well as inside bedroom walls. Back then, we didn’t have many constructive
or humorous texts, movies, or plays to model this thinking, more importantly our society
failed to provide universal healthcare and childcare, the livable and equitable wages,
and other support system that would have eased family tensions around household duties. It took getting together in groups to better
understand why women were doing almost all the household and child baring duties, something
that ultimately hurt men as well. As well as how to open the doors to more male
participate in raising of our children. Today we are still figuring out how to implement
public policies that will allow all of us to participate fully inside and outside the
home. A great way to learn this era of the women’s
movement is to watch the funny, fascinating, and eye opening documentary: “She’s Beautiful
when She’s Angry” which screened on the Simmons campus last year to an engaged standing room
only audience. I can’t recommend that film more highly. Sixth, find ways that your community or your
place of work could better meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population or the
ways that people of color, people with disabilities, people with different gender identities or
sexual orientations, older people, others marginalized in ways that you might help to
change. My own life’s work has the marginalization
of women in the field of health and given the ongoing attacks on access to reproductive
healthcare especially for women of color it is obvious that this work is far from done. In particular reproductive justice activist
and organizations advocating for women with disabilities and women of color need all of
our support to reverse the disturbing trends we now see. Whether you are in business, social work,
library science, nursing, diabetics, or public health, there will always be a cause or two
that will peak your interest and benefit from your skills. And forget the clear, accurate information
about health and sexuality still not reaching enough young people. While this is a serious situation, it reminds
me of a joke I once heard several years ago. Two young boys walk into a pharmacy, picked
up a box of tampons and proceeded to the check out counter. The man at the counter asks the older boy,
“Son, how old are you?” “8” the boy replied. The man continued, “Do you know how these
are used?” The boy replied, “Not exactly, but they’re
not for me, they’re for him. He’s my brother, he’s four. We saw on TV that if you use these you’d be
able to swim and ride a bike and he can’t do either one. Well, we all know less humorous stories where
ignorance or misleading advertising has lead directly to sexually transmissible infection
or an unwanted pregnancy or a destructive fad diet. So, all of us need to do more to steer other
toward what reliable information is out there. And here, I want to give a shout out to all
you great librarians, nutritionists, and nurses who steer us in the right direction in this
regard. Seventh, remember the advice of your most
valued mentors. And stay in touch with them if possible. My late husband, Irving Kenneth Zola, was
always my best friend and mentor. More than 21 years after his death, his extraordinary
legacy and medical sociology, disability rights and social justice continues to inform the
internal moral compass for all that I do. His early writings about medicine as an institution
of social control had a long lasting influence on how “Our Bodies, Our Selves” addressed
the medicalization of women’s lives. And for me, he epitomized how scholar activists
did not have to sacrifice academic principles in the pursuit of human rights and social
justice. And don’t be shy about mentoring others. About 3 decades ago, a priest I know well
told me that a member of his congregation came up to him a few days after his annual
sermon about the evils of abortion and she described in detail why she chose to have
an abortion some years back and why she wanted him to reconsider his words. He was so moved by her story and her argument
that he told me that he would never give that sermon again. In his last words to me, “Don’t get me wrong
Judy, I still think abortion is killing, but I now see that it can be the right thing to
do.” His ability to listen to this woman and be
mentored by her was yet another reminder of the power of our stories, especially when
confronting such polarizing issues. Eighth, make sure you make time for things
that bring you pleasure, celebrating, playing sports, making music, cooking, taking walks
with friends, playing card games and even activities that you never tried before. I enjoyed coaching my daughter’s soccer team,
playing my cello, lively dinner conversations, and attending musical and theatre performances. I sometimes think of the activist, Emma Goldman,
who was imprisoned in 1916 for distributing birth control information. She may never had said the quote so often
attributed to her on buttons and stickers: “If I cannot dance, I want no part in your
revolution.” But, in her 1931 autobiography, “Living my
Life,” she did say this: “I did not believe that a cause which stood for a beautiful idea
should demand the denial of life and joy. I want freedom, the right to self expression,
everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things,”. Emma understood the value of keeping our souls
nourished with friends, culture, and the arts. In closing, as I shift my gears in my own
life to volunteer more as a climate change activist with groups like Mothers Out Front,
I’m especially excited about the potential of intergenerational activism. As you all chart your own paths and find meaning
whether as leaders or as one of those who carry out many of the more invisible tasks
that keep the whole, all of the wheel turning, both the public and private sectors, don’t
forget to use my generation as a resource. Know that we are here to offer guidance, answer
questions, and steer you away from repeating our mistakes. We can be your mentors, your funders, your
shoulders to lean on when the going gets tough, and your applauders when you’ve achieved more
than you ever thought possible. It is in your capable hands that our future
rests. Know that you have a tag team ready to pitch
in and that to paraphrase poet Marge Piercy, “After the digging in the garden, after the
planting and a long season of tending and growth, harvest mostly does come. Thank you all. (Applause) Thank you so much, Judy Norsigian. We now begin conferring of degrees. Woo! The degrees are voted by the faculty and the
Simmons College Board of Trustees, granted by the authority of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. When your degree is announced by the Marshall
please stand. Remain standing until you hear the president
say the words that confer your degree officially. The first row of graduates should then remain
standing and then proceed to the stage, but everyone else can sit down. When you leave the stage, please return to
your row and be seated. Thank you. Will the candidates for the master of arts,
master of public policy in the college of arts and science please rise. President Drinan. On behalf of the faculty of the College of
Arts and Sciences, I have the honor to present to you the candidates of the degrees of master
of arts in English, master of arts in English, and master of arts in children’s literature,
master of arts in gender and cultural studies, master of arts in history, and master in public
policy. They have completed all the conditions of
scholarship and residence required by our faculty. I hereby grant you the master of arts and
the master in public policy degrees and declare that you are entitled to all rights, privileges,
and dignities pertaining to those degrees. Will the candidates for the master of arts
and master in public policy please come forward to the stage (Applause) (Reading of names) Congratulations and best wishes to all of
you who have graduated today. Thank you to all of our guests for being part of this wonderful
celebration. Please remain seated until the academic precision has the left the pavilion.

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