AMHERST — Governor Deval Patrick urged 2014 graduates of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Friday to use their education for the greater good, saying the “highest form of citizenship is seeing your stake in your neighbors’ dreams and struggles, as well as your own.”
“There is so much emphasis on education as a pathway to a good job, and I get that,” Patrick told 5,500 graduates from the state’s flagship public campus.
“But your education here at UMass is about more than being prepared to be good employees. It is about preparation for citizenship itself. . . . Good citizens don’t just live and work in a community. They build community.”
Overcast skies and a steady mist of rain did little to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm at the afternoon ceremony.
About 20,000 family members and friends of the graduates sat and stood in the aisles of an overflowing McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Excited students threw beach balls, lit cigars, and stood on their chairs to lead classmates in competing chants before being awarded their degrees.
University officials said that Patrick was chosen to deliver the commencement address because of the outgoing governor’s commitment to public education, including fighting to preserve UMass’s funding during the recent recession.
Patrick’s remarks were a mix of personal reflection, advice, and stump speech on climate change and energy policy. He drew chuckles when he recalled his frustration with his own daughters, who loathed answering questions about what they would do after college.
“I tried to be patient and leave aside mentioning that, when I was their age, I didn’t have the option not to choose a path for myself after school,” he said, adding, “I hope that whatever you choose to do, you do it with integrity.”
By far the longest section of Patrick’s speech was devoted to climate change and energy policy. Citing a report released by the Obama administration on climate change, he said state leaders must set a new “clean energy standard” that would reduce emissions in Massachusetts by half before 2050 and would chart the course to “a future free of fossil fuels.”
More immediately, he called on the Legislature to pass pending bills that would compel utilities to repair aging natural gas pipes and encourage the development of hydro and wind power.
Patrick also touted his environmental and energy accomplishments, saying the economy grew even as the state reduced its emissions, closed coal plants, and set aggressive energy efficiency goals.
Patrick opened the segment of his speech by joking, “I’m aware of how important it is for me to get on and off as quickly as possible — I get it.” But his remarks on energy policy were lengthy and at times dense with figures.
Some in the crowd seemed ready to celebrate. Impatient students cheered sarcastically when he boasted that the state had increased its solar energy capacity from 3 megawatts to 500 megawatts since 2007 and then broke into a song that briefly threatened to drown out the governor.
“People are wiseguys,” said graduating senior Janna Centrella, 22.
But the stadium quieted when Patrick invoked the memory of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, and urged students to unite.
“We are all connected, to each other, to events beyond our control, to a common destiny,” he said.
The university awarded honorary doctoral degrees to former US representative John W. Olver and to journalist Gail Collins, a UMass graduate.
The graduation of students from the university’s various schools at several commencements throughout the day created a logistical headache in Amherst. Thousands of cars clogged the town’s roads for most of Friday, inching toward distant parking lots.Dan Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanielAdams86.