In 1995, US Secretary of Labor Martin J. Walsh said onstage Saturday at Endicott College, he thought his life was over, derailed by alcoholism. In fact, he said, his life was “just really beginning.”
Walsh drew on his ascent from detox to mayor of Boston and White House Cabinet secretary to inspire Endicott College graduates at their commencement Saturday morning to pursue their dreams.
“It’s harder to imagine the future right now than it has been in quite some time. But I’m here to tell you keep pursuing those dreams,” he said. “Don’t let [the] uncertainty of this moment limit you. Don’t lower your expectations. And whatever you do, don’t shrink your dreams. In fact, aim bigger than ever. The future is now yours to create and we are depending on you.”
The college awarded Walsh an honorary law degree during the ceremony at Hempstead Stadium on Endicott’s campus in Beverly. The class of 2022 has 697 undergraduate and 306 graduate students, the college said.
Walsh praised graduates for earning degrees during the COVID-19 pandemic as they navigated illness, remote learning, and an array of public health protocols necessitated by the global crisis.
“You’ve gotten educated and lived through the worst global pandemic in over 100 years,” he said.
He relayed campus stories from the pandemic about students logging into classes from dorm rooms, forgetting to mute themselves on Zoom, and relying on a system of ropes, pulleys, and buckets to get coffee deliveries in quarantine.
“None of you let that stop you, because if you did, you wouldn’t be here today,” Walsh said.
He described obstacles he has encountered, telling graduates that he grew up in a three-decker in Dorchester with immigrant parents from Ireland and overcame cancer as a child. Walsh dropped out of college and was working in construction when he sought treatment for alcoholism. Eighteen months later, Walsh said, he ran for the state Legislature and served in the House of Representatives for 16 years. He worked as a labor leader, then returned to school, earning his college degree at 42. In 2013, voters elected him mayor of Boston.
At City Hall, Walsh said he guided Boston through the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I had to do something that I thought I would never have to do,” he said. “I had to shut down the city that I love.”
In January 2021, when President Biden asked him to join his Cabinet as labor secretary, he accepted and was sworn in in March of that year.
“I get to help people across the country realize their dream. It’s a tremendous privilege,” he said. “And we put special focus on helping people who have been shut out of opportunity in the past, whether it’s due to racism, poverty, or discrimination. In many ways, it’s the work of healing, repairing, and growing that American dream.”
Like Walsh, other speakers highlighted the graduating class’s perseverance and resilience.
“Being resilient is about more than simply having the fortitude to ‘get through it’ — whatever the ‘it’ is that you’re confronting,” said Steven DiSalvo, Endicott’s president. “The real fruit of resilience is the indelible lessons we learn while persevering. The experiences that motivate us to aspire to be more. You know this yourself. So often the struggles we overcome have more to teach us than the victories we’ve achieved.”
Patricia Crispi, who has been a nurse for 29 years, spoke on behalf of Endicott’s graduate students. She earned a doctorate degree after researching the health and well-being of nurses.
“When I chose my topic, I had no indication of how significantly nurses’ health and well-being would be tested over the past few years,” Crispi said.
She encouraged graduates to take care of themselves and find a mentor.
“Believe, be present, and take exquisite care of yourselves,” Crispi said.
Madison Smith, an accounting and finance student from Thompson, Conn., offered remarks on behalf of undergraduate students who received their degrees.
“We are a resilient class,” she said. “I challenge you to take the best parts of your years here and bring little pieces into the real world.”