Calling Suffolk University “one of the true crown jewels in the commonwealth’s constellation of higher education institutions,” commencement speaker Gov. Charlie Baker spoke to graduates of Suffolk’s College of Arts & Sciences about service and optimism.

Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, also spoke about service in the context of graduates’ having the courage to effect change in the world.

Baker advised graduates to:

  • "Be constructive"
  • “Be positive”
  • “Try to focus on what works instead of what doesn’t”

The governor said that to work in the public sector in Massachusetts is to know Suffolk University and the fruits of the education it provides.

Suffolk’s abundance of Beacon Hill talent

“Having spent a good part of my life in public service here in the Commonwealth of Mass. both at the state and local level, I’ve come across more than my fair share of Suffolk University graduates,” he said.

One of the reasons he accepted an invitation to speak at commencement was “because Suffolk University, over the years, has done a wonderful job of contributing many leaders to state and local government here in the commonwealth.” Baker then recited a long list of Suffolk alumni working in his administration, including Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore.

“As somebody who appreciates and believes in the difference that public service can make, I find Suffolk University to be one of the true crown jewels in the commonwealth’s constellation of higher education institutions,” said Baker.

He also shared an anecdote about how Suffolk has benefited the State House in an unexpected way.

The State House does not yet have Wi-Fi, so Baker asked legislators and others what they do to get online. The answer: We borrow it from Suffolk. Baker noted that Suffolk alumni on Beacon Hill came away with a campus Wi-Fi password, “so I want to thank you for supplying that service – free of charge.”

Baker, who was sworn in as governor this past January, has a history of public service dating back to the 1990s. He served in the Weld and Cellucci administrations, first as secretary of Health and Human Services and then as secretary of Administration and Finance. Later he led Harvard Pilgrim Health Care out of receivership as its chief executive officer.

The power of ordinary people

Carolyn MugarMugar talked about the extraordinary power of ordinary people who set their sights on solving what may seem like intractable problems.

Citing American challenges such as poverty and “the mass incarceration … that plagues our communities and our taxpayers alike,” Mugar told the graduates that, “along with the opportunity you now have comes the obligation to find your own personal ways to address the opportunity gaps in our society.”

“I suggest that a way to find happiness in the face of injustice identify what moves you and to act. That will make a difference.”

She told of her father’s coming to America in 1906—the same year that Suffolk was founded—because his parents recognized the storm brewing for the Armenian people. The family thus escaped the Armenian genocide that began in 1915, and her father, Stephen Mugar, went on to found Star Market.

Mugar’s father received a Suffolk University honorary degree 55 years ago, at which time he said: “I feel very strongly that those who come to the United States from abroad owe a debt to this country just as surely as if they had signed a contract, and I believe strongly that the best way to pay this debt is through educational institutes.” He repaid his “debt” in part through a donation to Suffolk Law School, she said.

In today’s remarks, Mugar asked graduates to think about what they will do moving forward and gave examples of small efforts that grew into large movements.

When Willie Nelson organized the first Farm Aid concert 30 years ago at a time when family farmers were being forced from their land, he didn’t realize that he was beginning a longtime movement that would raise money and awareness and lead to a time when people prefer healthy food from family farms, she said.

And Mugar said that she and her late husband founded the Armenia Tree project at a time when a blockade, earthquake and more had families in Armenia tearing up floorboards and burning books to heat their homes and cook their food.

“Plant for the future”

They were asked: “How can you plant trees when people are hungry and have no heat? Our answer: It is exactly at that time, when everything seems hopeless that you must show the faith necessary to plant for the future.”

More than 4.5 million trees later, Armenian forests are sustainable, communities thriving, and people can harvest the fruits of the trees, but, perhaps most important, “our work is a concrete demonstration of the belief that Armenians and the Armenian diaspora has across the world and to show faith in the future of their people.”

The lesson is that ordinary people can make a difference, according to Mugar. “Whatever matters to you, jump in all the way. Be a visionary look ahead and imagine the fruits of a sustained effort. Be patient and steadfast enough to effect real change and a far better future.”

Baker gave the address as 992 undergraduate and advanced degrees were conferred at the College’s commencement exercises on May 17 at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on the Boston waterfront.

Student Statistics

College or Arts & Sciences bachelor’s degrees: 801
College or Arts & Sciences advanced degrees: 191

Honorary degrees

The following honorary degrees were awarded during Suffolk University College of Arts & Sciences exercises:

  • Baker, honorary Doctor of Public Service degree
  • Mugar, honorary Doctor of Public Service degree
  • Robert Brustein, Suffolk University distinguished scholar in residence and director, playwright, actor, author, and teacher, honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree
  • The Rev. Gloria E. White-Hammond, co-pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church, executive director of My Sister’s Keeper, and former physician at the South End Community Health Center, honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree

Sawyer Business School commencement

Boston Globe Editor Brian McGrory spoke at Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School commencement exercises in the morning of May 17 at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. He has worked at the Globe for more than 25 years serving as Metro editor and columnist, White House correspondent, associate editor, and national reporter. Under his leadership, The Boston Globe was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the breaking-news category 2014 for its coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. He received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. More

Suffolk University Law School commencement

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Robert J. Cordy and American Bar Association President-Elect Paulette Brown spoke at Suffolk University Law School commencement exercises May 16 at the Hynes Convention Center. Both were honored with honorary Doctor of Laws degrees. More

Brown is a labor and employment law partner and chief diversity officer with the Morristown, N.J., office of Locke Lord Edwards. Her service with the ABA includes chairing the Board of Governors Program Planning and Evaluation Committee. Brown has served on the Commission on Women in the Profession, was a co-author of "Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms,” and chaired the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice.
Cordy has served both in public service and private practice. He was a deputy commissioner of the Department of Revenue, associate general counsel in charge of enforcement at the State Ethics Commission, chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit in Boston, and chief legal counsel to Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld.