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Governor Charlie Baker urged Wentworth Institute of Technology graduates Sunday to never forget the importance of optimism, especially in moments of hardship.

As he recounted tough times in his own life, Baker told the 377 graduates, their families, and guests gathered under a large white tent at Wentworth’s Quad that “it is OK to fail.”

Baker said he was “hurt” when he lost his first run for governor against former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick in 2010. But, he said, his perspective of the race shifted once he realized the value of failure.

“In fact, most of the people who succeed at almost anything in life fail at some point along the way,” Baker said. “Some of us had to run for office more than once, lose, learn from our mistakes to run again and win.”

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The ceremony, which launched this year’s graduation season, also served as a significant milestone for the university’s president, Zorica Pantic, who will be stepping down at the end of May after 14 years.

“As many of you know, this is my final commencement as Wentworth’s president,” Pantic said. “And so today, as one of our students pointed out to me, it’s as if I am also graduating. . . . As I prepare for a new venture, I am feeling extremely proud of Wentworth’s many achievements over the past 14 years, and I am gratified that the university is in great shape for the future.”

During the ceremony, Eric Overstrom, Wentworth’s senior vice president, said Pantic was the first female engineer to lead a technological university in the United States when she joined Wentworth in 2005.

“Your many accomplishments as president epitomize the Wentworth experience, which challenges students to do, learn, succeed.” Overstrom said to her and to the gathering, according to prepared remarks.

New graduate Shelbie Almeida of Fairfield, Conn., who received a bachelor’s in architecture, kissed her boyfriend, Danny Paez of Ansoina, Conn.
New graduate Shelbie Almeida of Fairfield, Conn., who received a bachelor’s in architecture, kissed her boyfriend, Danny Paez of Ansoina, Conn.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Baker went on to tell the graduates about his parents’ fervent optimism during his mother’s 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s, which he called “a very cruel disease.” He described how difficult it was to watch as his mother began to fade in and out of lucidity.

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“I asked him one time after one of our visits if it was still worth going since it was pretty clear she had no idea who we were,” Baker said as his voice choked up with emotion. “And he just said ‘we know who she is and that’s really all that matters.’ ”

As his mother’s condition deteriorated, Baker said, his father continued to care for her without complaint. When his parents decided to move to a continuing care community, his father, who lived in a separate facility, visited his wife in the community’s nursing home every day until she died.

“The grace and love and dignity and optimism they showed late in life proved to everybody in our family that they could play the hand even when the cards were cruel and unrelenting,” Baker said.

Emily Hurley, an architecture graduate from New Hampshire, said she appreciated how emotional Baker was during his speech because it made him more “relatable.”

“I really loved it,” Hurley said as she waited to meet her family after the ceremony. “It’s nice to hear politicians be personal especially if they’re speaking to students.”

Aslah Alshaiea, who received a bachelor’s in civil engineering, was hugged by her sister Manal.
Aslah Alshaiea, who received a bachelor’s in civil engineering, was hugged by her sister Manal.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Sophia Eppolito can be reached at sophia.eppolito@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaEppolito.