Referencing a mix of history and personal experience, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny exhorted 4,395 Boston College graduates today to “let go, let fly.”
“Be successful, be well, be happy above all, be yourselves,” Kenny said during his 23-minute address during BC’s 137th annual commencement, inside a sun-dappled Alumni Stadium. “Live long and deep and comfortably in your own skin.”
Kenny earned a standing ovation from the Class of 2013 seating in folding chairs on the football field and from an estimated 20,000 guests who filled the bleachers behind them. School officials said past BC commencement speakers have rarely received standing ovations.
The prime minister also spoke of Boston’s strength in the wake of the Marathon bombings.
“In this city, strength is your default position,” he said. “The hurt of the Boston Marathon attacks is still palpable, but the people of this great city have responded with their usual courage, dignity and compassion.”
On Monday, two friends and BC graduate students who were injured in the bombings, Liza Cherney, and Brittany Loring, were among those who earned degrees.
Kenney, who also was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree, did not address the controversy that has swirled over his appearance.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley boycotted the ceremony, where for decades the Archbishop of Boston has given the benediction, over Kenny’s support of abortion-rights legislation in his country. The measure would permit abortions if there is a real and substantial threat to the mother’s life, including from suicide
O’Malley said US bishops have urged Catholic institutions not to honor government officials who “promote abortion” with their policies.
About 40 protestors gathered outside the gates to BC’s campus to object to Kenny’s appearance. The group included members of Students for Life of America.
“If Boston College won’t stand for the preborn at its graduation ceremonies, we will.” said a statement from Kristan Hawkins, president of the group.
The university also presented honorary degrees to: James A. Woods, the founding dean and namesake of the university’s Woods College for Advancing Studies; Wayne Budd, former US attorney and long-time BC trustee; Cornelia Kelley, headmaster emerita of Boston Latin School; and Mary Lou DeLong, who served in several key administrative roles at BC.
Like many area commencements this year, security was heightened in the wake of the Marathon bombings. Campus police boosted patrols. Backpacks, briefcases, large bags and wrapped gifts were prohibited. Smaller bags and purses were searched.
In his speech, Kenny touched on the deep ties between the United States and Ireland, forged over centuries.
“Today, the Irish story is writ large across America right to Capitol Hill. The hands roughened in Irish soil, were leathered in your mines, your scaffolding, your bridges, your railroads,” he said. “Over the generations, our farmers-turned-labourers saw to it that their children went from the schoolhouse and the firehouse, right to the White House itself.’’
In his invitation to speak at BC, he said: “Know that you honor all the generations of Irish people. On such a proud day, in such glorious company, God indeed is in His heaven. And I thank Him that the sky has not fallen in.”
Matt Rocheleau can be reached at email@example.com .