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At Boston commencement, Mayor Walsh gets personal

Martin Walsh spoke at Franklin Institute of Technology and received an honorary degree Saturday.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Martin Walsh spoke at Franklin Institute of Technology and received an honorary degree Saturday.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh captivated graduates this morning with his personal story of overcoming cancer, alcoholism, and poor choices to triumph as a state representative and now the mayor of Boston.

In his first commencement speech as mayor, Walsh seemed more passionate than in any of his other speeches as he delivered a positive message to 196 graduates at Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston.

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The mayor also marked another accomplishment at the event, when the college’s president Anthony G. Benoit presented Walsh with his first-ever honorary degree for commitment to civic responsibility, access to quality education, and workforce development.

Walsh said he was “extremely proud’’ of his doctor of humane letters honorary degree.

“When I got out of the car this morning, I didn’t think I was a doctor,” he said. “When I get back in the car, I’ll be a doctor. “

During his speech, Walsh used his story to urge graduates to never lose sight of their dreams, even if they make bad decisions.

The mayor said he had big ambitions as a young man, but when it came to college, he did the bare minimum. Poor grades initially kept him out of Suffolk University. He eventually went to Quincy Junior College, then to Suffolk, but only lasted one semester, Walsh said. He quit school, made money, and drank too much, he said, letting down his family.

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“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time – all the time,’’ Walsh said as the audience laughed.

He finally decided to get sober, but by then he had wasted so many years, the mayor said.

“I thought my life was over,’’ Walsh said. “I didn’t realize my life was just beginning.”

When he decided to run for state representative of Dorchester people doubted him, saying his competitors were more educated.

“I got in that race, and I won that election,’’ Walsh said. “I represented that district in Dorchester for 16 years.”

Last year, he won the mayor’s office.

At his swearing in, Walsh said, he was overcome with emotion about his journey.

“I thought of the path that brought me to that stage in Boston College,” he said. “I thought about the challenges I overcame.’’

The audience was quiet. Then a baby began to cry.

“You didn’t like the story,’’ the mayor quipped in the direction of the child, and the audience laughed.

The mayor said he realizes his path to the mayor’s office was not smooth. But he said he never gave up trying.

“I kept moving forward. I learned from my mistakes … and I got to live my dream,’’ he told them.

After the speech, Benoit said: “Thank you, Doctor Walsh.”

Jonathan Tejeva, a Lynn resident who received an associate degree in mechanical engineering technology, said he found the mayor’s speech inspiring.

“It was awesome,’’ he said. “It was my first time ever being involved in something like that and seeing a politician there – like the mayor.”

Walsh also spoke at Boston University School of Public Health’s commencement this afternoon.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

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