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Ukraine ambassador urges Boston College students to find their inner strength in commencement address

John Berg raised a hand above the crowd, searching for his parents on graduation day.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

For thousands of Boston College students, congratulations were in order on Monday as they walked across the sun-spotted campus and gathered at Alumni Stadium to celebrate the school’s 147th commencement, where Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, delivered this year’s address.

“The commencement ceremony felt surreal, the four years I’ve been at Boston College,” said 22-year-old Joann Hong. “It felt like I was walking down memory lane.”

Hong was one of approximately 4,400 undergraduate and graduate students who received a diploma, according to Ed Hayward, senior associate director of BC’s media relations.

A crowd of 20,000 people, full with family and friends, gathered to wish good luck to the Class of 2023.


“It was a really beautiful ceremony, and it was lovely to be right by my classmates that I’ve worked so hard with for the past four years,” said 22-year-old Bella Secchiaroli, a graduate of the college’s nursing school. “We’ve been talking about this day for so long.”

Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, addressed the Boston College graduates at the 147th commencement.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In her address to the class, Markarova called on students to persevere through tough times, and to find what fuels their inner strength.

“What gives us strength?” Markarova asked the crowd, stating it was a question she heard every day with news headlines about the war in Ukraine.

Markarova noted that despite it being the 452nd day since the war in Ukraine started and the struggles her country had faced, the Ukrainian people continue to fight and stand up for themselves through the strength of responsibility, taking action, and love.

“Russia set our house on fire, fueled by hatred. We fight out of love for our country, our people, and our freedom,” Markarova said. “That’s why the free world supports us. That’s how I know we will prevail.”

Huel Cox, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, said it was amazing to hear from the perspective of a Ukrainian about what gives them strength.


“From the photos that we’ve seen, it’s been crazy that it’s been a year now [since the war started],” Cox said. “The heroism of the Ukraine people is amazing and awe-inspiring.”

Hong, who received a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology and minor in cybersecurity, said Markarova’s emphasis on perseverance stood out to her as her own journey to graduation was marked with challenges and resilience.

“During my first few years at Boston College, I was not really passionate about anything and it was hard to find what I wanted to study,” Hong said. “I gave up on taking cybersecurity courses because I was scared, but I stuck with it, pushed myself through it, and stayed determined.”

Cox said Markarova’s speech especially stood out for students who experienced a global pandemic during their time in college.

“During the end of freshman year and our sophomore year, we got sent home and the pandemic was happening . . . and on top of that, the beginning of the BLM movement, it was a really socially difficult moment,” Cox said. “So there was an element of resilience that my class shows to come back and enjoy our final two years.”

But for Secchiaroli, Markarova’s emphasis on love was what stuck with her.

“A common theme throughout graduation at Boston College is to act with love, and that was the final message she put forth,” Secchiaroli said. “And something we’ve always learned at Boston College is to lead with love.”


Ashley Soebroto can be reached at Follow her @ashsoebroto.