After philanthropist Robert Hale gave the commencement address at Roxbury Community College Friday, he quickly returned to the podium with a grand surprise for graduates.
Hale, CEO of Quincy-based Granite Telecommunications and his wife, Karen, gave $1,000 to each graduate, half for the graduates to keep and half for them to give to others.
Hale, a part-owner of the Boston Celtics, made the same gesture at a commencement address last year at Quincy College.
After initially joking that he had another 45 minutes of stories and advice to share, Hale received a standing ovation for the couple’s generosity.
In his speech, Hale had urged graduates to give back throughout their lives.
“Give more than you get. It will matter an awful lot for your life,” he said.“Give a little bit more and in the long run, you will get more.”
More than 150 students received their gifts from the Hales as they crossed the stage at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center. Each student was handed two envelopes: one marked “gift,” containing the $500 for them, and one marked “give,” with the money to give to someone else.
“$500 is from Karen and I to you. We’re proud of you,” Hale said. “The second $500 is for you to give to somebody else or some other organization who can use it more than you. Share in the gift and in the joy of giving.”
Hale also urged graduates to follow their hearts and to not be afraid of failure, citing his own experience with founding a billion-dollar company — Network Plus — that went bankrupt.
Giving back was a major theme of the afternoon.
Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, the chair of the college’s board, told graduates it is their “responsibility to reach back and pull the next person forward.”
“If we do not, as a people, we are lost,” Tompkins said to the graduates, most of them people of color. “There are enough obstacles in our way.”
Jackie Jenkins-Scott, the college’s interim president, emphasized all the people who have helped them through their studies.
“You had help and support,” Jenkins-Scott said. “I want each of you to stand, look to the back, look to the side, look to the front, and think about that moment when you have had support, whether you deserved it or not, and offer your own show of gratitude.”
Graduates also heard from their classmate Shadia Singo, who emigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 with no ability to speak or understand English.
“All I had was a dream of a better future,” Singo said, recalling her start as a part-time student studying information systems technology. “This institution provided me and all of us with an amazing support system, allowing anyone to start from scratch and still achieve their goals.”
“Let’s aspire to not just make a living but to make a difference,” Singo said.
Singo was among the graduates who quickly made plans for how to use the Hale’s generous gift.
She said the $500 gift would go to a friend who helps orphans in the Congo, while she was going to buy herself shoes. Rosena Valcourt, a graduate in nursing, said she would use $500 for her family in Haiti, and the other $500 for her kids.
The Hales have given generously to other New England institutions in recent years.
In addition to the two commencement gifts, last spring they gave $30 million to Connecticut College, his alma mater, and $50 million to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In 2019, the Hales were named the 15th largest donors in the country by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“With these graduates, we wanted to make their day brighter,” Hale said. “I think and I hope we have.”