US Senator Elizabeth Warren, the keynote speaker at Framingham State University’s commencement Sunday, said she shared a connection with the students: She, too, had attended a public university, which led her on a path to teaching at Harvard, influencing major financial policy, and ultimately, to a seat in the Senate.
Warren, who graduated from the University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree, implored the graduates to keep their plans for a profession firm but flexible, as Warren noted that her own career vaulted from her first post-college job as an elementary school teacher.
“Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected,” she said.
Warren’s commentary came as the federal government reels from scandals involving the IRS investigating conservative groups and the Department of Justice secretly obtaining phone records from the Associated Press.
After the ceremony, Warren said that what happened was wrong but she has not lost faith in the Obama administration.
“We need to understand what happened, and make any changes necessary to make sure that never happens again,” she said.
The congratulatory balloons and brightly colored flowers of the commencement were set against this year’s backdrop of tragedy and transition.
Colleen Kelly, of Melrose, a 21-year-old senior hoping to start a career in library science, was struck and killed while crossing Route 9 in December. Kelly’s siblings accepted her posthumous bachelor’s degree in English.
During the spring semester, several Framingham State community members witnessed the Boston Marathon bombings.
One Framingham State senior, Robert Wheeler, had just crossed the Marathon finish line when the bombs detonated. Wheeler can be seen in a widely circulated photograph using his jersey as a tourniquet on a victim.
“Robert immediately ran back toward the danger,” said Framingham State’s president, Tim Flanagan, during his commencement remarks. “I’m sure many of you have seen the iconic photo of him removing his shirt and wrapping it around the badly damaged leg of victim Ron Brassard.”
Gesturing toward the audience, Flanagan said Brassard and his family had come to watch Wheeler graduate, as the audience stood to applaud.
This was Flanagan’s last Framingham State commencement. He will leave in August, after serving the college for seven years, to become president of Illinois State University. Framingham State officials have yet to pick his successor.
“Today is a bittersweet occasion,” Flanagan said.
In their moment of jubilation Sunday, members of the Curry College’s graduating class of 2013 were also reminded of tragedy.
Commencement speaker Kenneth R. Feinberg, administrator of One Fund Boston, told the 680 Curry graduates that they had the right to be proud of their accomplishment but he cautioned against assuming that their degree brought a guarantee of success.
He invoked his experience administering funds for other tragedies, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007.
“If I have learned one lesson in my professional life, teeming with unforeseen tragedy and misfortune, it is this: Take nothing for granted,” Feinberg said. “Life has a way of throwing curveballs at all of us.”
Before Feinberg spoke, graduates, faculty, and guests commemorated a tragedy close to home for the college: the death of Curry College junior Evan Bard in an automobile accident last weekend.
The college’s president, Kenneth K. Quigley Jr., called for a moment of silence honoring Bard.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft urged graduating Suffolk University students to define and stay true to their core values in order to live a meaningful and happy life.
“Life will be distracting. Let those values serve as your moral compass. Return to them and let them guide you through life’s many adventures,” Kraft told the 1,175 students receiving graduate and undergraduate degrees from Suffolk University’s College of Arts & Sciences at a commencement ceremony at Bank of America Pavilion Sunday afternoon.
While students and their families and friends cheered from the stands, the lively celebration was at times somber as they reflected on the Boston Marathon bombings, which shook the city and the school’s downtown campus.
They took a moment to honor the first responders.
Suffolk University’s president, James McCarthy, praised Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis for his work in Boston and his department’s response to the bombings before awarding him an honorary doctorate of public service
“Your sterling leadership during the Boston Marathon bombing crisis won global admiration. Your strength became our strength,” McCarthy said.
Davis’s daughter Kaitlyn graduated during the ceremony.
Standing before thousands gathered in the academic quad at Tufts University Sunday morning, commencement speaker Claude M. Steele, dean of the School of Education at Stanford University, told graduates to find what they have a passion for and pursue it.
“Begin the journey of life, above all, trusting what you care about in life,” Steele said. “Think hard, always think hard, but don’t worry too much about figuring out a precise strategy, a step-by-step plan; instead cultivate a faith, a specific faith that, by and large, doing the best you possibly can at what you value doing will bring you the chances and opportunities you need.”
Steele is known for his research into stereotype threat, or the anxiety and fear that comes from potentially confirming a negative stereotype.
“Try to avoid defensiveness, as tempting as it is,” he said. “Rather, lean in, and let in; try to let in what you don’t know you don’t know, make learning your go-to mindset under threat, and it can set you free.”
About 3,000 students celebrated their graduation from Tufts Sunday.
Globe correspondents Johanna Kaiser, Jarret Bencks, and Dave Eisenstadter contributed to this report. Jaclyn Reiss
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