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MCLA Class of 2024 Told 'This Is Your Time'
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:22PM / Saturday, May 11, 2024
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Commencement speaker Shannon Holsey shares some advice from her father: 'My dad always said if you're not hitting a few guardrails, you're not going fast enough.' See more photos here.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts awarded 175 degree and certificates at the college's 125th commencement ceremonies on Saturday. 
Keynote speaker Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, said past graduations have occurred during periods of peace with little fanfare. But not so for the class of 2024. 
"Your class has come of an age and a moment of great conflict in our nation and for the world," she said. "A rare inflection in points in history where the size and scope of the challenges before us require that we remake our world to its renewed promise. That we align our deepest values and commitments to the demands of the new age. It's a privilege and responsibility afforded a few to a few generations. And for that task that you're now called to fulfill is huge."
Holsey told the class not to wait to share their opinions or ideas or to shape the world. Punctuated by applause at several points, the Native American leader said this is a world that "aches under the weight of violence, instability and threats to global order" and invests more in wars and weapons than education and health care. 
She referenced the experience of her own nation, dispossessed from the very land that she stood on and reduced from thousands to hundreds as they were forced to move farther west.
"This day of all days, is one of my birthright and seems most fitting that this place is a perfect space to celebrate and honor my ancestors who sacrificed so much to be here," Holsey said. Past leaders had seen education as a countercheck for "adapting and understanding a complex system that wasn't necessarily designed for indigenous people."
"I have learned that diversity in human experience gives rise to diversity in thought, which creates distinct ideas and methods of problem solving. The power of differences can make us smarter and more creative. If we accept the differences are OK," she said. "The world doesn't need more people trying to fit in like a cookie-cutter sameness."
Refuse to settle for anything less than extraordinary success, she exhorted the graduates, and share the lessons learned to aid in the struggle of others by speaking of the values of liberty, opportunity, inclusion and respect. 
"We have that responsibility to ensure all human beings are free, equal housed and nourished," Holsey said. "I have so much faith in all of who you are and who you will become. Our ancestors' legacy is very much your legacy and your inheritance. Don't let anybody tell you differently. You are the living proof that the American Dream endures in our lifetime. "It is absolutely your time."
The graduates made their traditional march through the gates of the college to the Amsler Campus Center, where family and friends greated them with cheers. 
President Jamie Birge welcomed the gathering and senior Alison Blakeslee and juniors Sajaira Hudson and Rachel Lamarre performed a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful" that prompted a rousing round of applause. 
Hosley was awarded a doctor of humane letters recognizing her leadership and commitment to the well-being of her community; state Sen. Paul Mark a doctor of public service for his advocacy for his district and higher education; Anne Nemetz-Carlson a doctor of humane letters for her long leadership of Child Care of the Berkshires and work in early childhood education; and Brian Boyles a doctor of humanities for the growth and success of Mass Humanities during his tenure as executive director. See more information here.
Sydalee Rinker, vice president of the class of 2024, noted they had begun their higher education journey during the global pandemic, with masks and remote classes and no graduation ceremonies to say farewell to their childhoods. 
"We are all going to walk across the stage for someone who means the world and more to us, for some of us our single parent who bent over backwards to make sure we had this opportunity or our children who we are proving to us that we can do everything we set our minds to or even the people in Palestine who cannot walk today," Rinker said, noting they are the first their family to walk the stage thanks to their father.
The class revolutionized the college by rebuilding the clubs and organization, changing its atmosphere and preparing it for action and perseverance. 
"We are the change the world has been waiting for," they said. "We are social workers, scientists, psychologists, historians, authors, artists, and most importantly, we are leaders. 
"We are all the future of America. It is up to us to work for change, make our voices heard and teach the next generation to fight for what they believe in. A movement is nothing without numbers and drive. We made it through a pandemic. We can change this world for the better, creating a better world for ourselves and future generations."
Alyssa Porter, receiving a master's degree in education, is a  fourth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Colegrove Park Elementary School and a graduate of the college's Four Plus One accelerated master's program. 
Porter said she's learned to love teaching despite the disruption of the pandemic and then an injury that curtailed her soccer playing. It was her instructors and her co-teacher and her family and friends that helped her to persevere and become the woman she is. And she thanked MCLA for making her dream a reality. 
"Every single setback makes the destination so much better," she told the graduates. "Know that you are irreplaceable and you are memorable not only here on campus, but beyond. Congratulations to everyone sitting here — all your hard work has paid off."
Birge noted the difficulties the class of 2024 first encountered on their path to graduation and urged them to use the "lantern" the college has given them to light the truth and reveal all they can do. 
"You have compiled a long list of accomplishments and inspired us with your success in the classroom, in the lab, on the stage in the gallery, on the athletic playing services, and in the community," he said. 
"Without knowing it, you have renewed for each of us our commitment to MCLA's mission and purpose. You're not leaving MCLA with only a degree this year, but also with our deep gratitude for all that you've given to us. You've set an example for all of us to follow."
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