Suffolk University faculty, students, and trustees took time on a sunny afternoon Sunday to forget the tumultuous events of the past semester and celebrate the accomplishments of the graduating class of seniors.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a commencement address telling graduates to prepare for the unexpected, and Suffolk president Margaret McKenna told students not to be afraid of causing a stir.
“Join us troublemakers and make a positive difference in the world,” McKenna said, speaking to the crowd gathered under the awning at the Blue Hills Bank Pavillion on the waterfront in the Seaport District.
No speaker mentioned the recent debacle in which some of Suffolk’s trustees tried to oust McKenna after seven months on the job. The effort backfired as students and faculty rallied around McKenna and she struck a deal with the board to stay into next year.
Instead, speakers touted volunteer hours at local food banks, victories earned by the baseball team, moving theater productions, and work in local politics.
Class speaker Victoria Ireton said she was homeless before coming to Suffolk, with a job at Chuck E. Cheese. “Yes, I dressed up like the rat,” she said. Then one professor gave her a job, and a chance, and it changed her trajectory.
“I was no longer the lost child, I became an educated young woman with a hopeful future,” she said.
Warren told her own story of an unlikely beginning, from a mother with a law degree whom no one wanted to hire to a US Senator. She told students not to be so focused on a plan that they ignore the unexpected, and to fight for what they want.
“Get ready for a lifetime of unexpected adventures,” Warren told the graduates.
Students seemed to have already taken that advice to heart. Many, even before they had picked up their diplomas, said they already had jobs lined up, at the city of Cambridge, the state Department of Children and Families and in management at Shaws supermarkets.
Others plan to continue their education. Muhammad Aljiedi, a physics major from Saudi Arabia, said he will attend a PhD program in life sciences and technology in Tokyo.
Many students said the back-and-forth between Mc Kenna and the trustees united the students and faculty, primarily in support of McKenna.
Chase Withrow, who studied economics, said he believes the university’s stature will endure.
“They felt united, they came together and tried to hold up the reputation of the school and I think they succeeded in that,” said Withrow, a commuter student from Waltham.
The episode with McKenna and the board also gave students real-world experience, said Theresa Stevens, who studied government and completed two internships with state lawmakers.
“I’ve never seen Suffolk come together like that before,” she said.
Larissa Astudillo, of Connecticut, said students felt they made a difference because McKenna remained in her job.
“It was great that we had a voice,” Astudillo said.
McKenna filed out of the pavilion Sunday beside new board chairman Robert C. Lamb, whose tenure begins as her short presidency draws to a likely close.
McKenna struck a deal with the board in February when she agreed to step down by the fall of 2017 in exchange for a promise from trustees that former board chairman Andrew Meyer would also step down this month, when his term expired. A search committee is expected to be formed soon to find a new president.
Before she disappeared behind the stage, McKenna said she will be back next year as promised — and she did not rule out the possibility of staying longer.
“I don’t know about that,” McKenna said. “I’ll be here next year and you know, we’ll see what happens. But the plan is to find somebody to replace me who’s good.”Laura Krantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.