Clark University held its 109th Commencement on Sunday, May 19. Degrees were granted to 1,096 graduates: 523 baccalaureate, 541 masters, and 32 doctoral.
Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, and founder of the Armenia Tree Project, delivered the Commencement address and imparted lessons from the early days of both organizations. Mugar was married to the late John T. O’Connor, who served as a Clark Trustee from 1997 to 2001. O’Connor died at the age of 46.
“Don’t wait for your life to begin,” she urged the graduates. “When you see what’s wrong, there is ALWAYS something you can do, no matter what your age.”
Mugar told the story of Farm Aid, and how musician Willie Nelson, whose original plan was to host just one concert to raise money and awareness for family farmers, sparked a movement and earned himself a reputation as the most committed visible supporter of family farmers.
“Yes it’s good to think ahead, to plan, but often the best thing is to simply act. Just take that first uncertain step, and then take the next, and keep going,” said Mugar. “Don’t spend any time standing still in fear about which road to take. Just get moving. Life happens when you make choices, when you take action.”
The philanthropist/activist reassured the graduates that the future would be okay because of what they themselves will do.
“With ordinary human courage and vision, with the particular special tools Clark has given each of you, with the hands-on experience you already have, together with others, you have the capacity to do what needs to be done,” she said.
Mugar accepted an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters on behalf of Farm Aid and the Armenia Tree Project—two organizations, she said, “that know the importance of courage, vision, and community.”
In his introductory remarks, Clark President Angel told the graduates, “While some are pessimistic about what lies ahead for our country and our world, those of us who have spent time with Clark graduates are optimistic about our common future.”
“The difference you have made on our campus inspires us,” President Angel continued. “We are confident that you—our graduates—will challenge convention and change our world for the better.”
President Angel also recognized Clark English Professor Virginia (Ginger) Vaughan, who is retiring this year, for her many years of service to Clark students.
For the first time ever at Clark, the senior speaker used slam poetry to address her fellow graduates. Abigail E. Petkov, of Highland Park, N.J., delivered a poem inspired by Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Petkov graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree.
“The impact that we can have on this world is limitless. But in order to feel as though our lives have been complete, the determination rests on us. We get to decide the paths of our lives. And our potential is boundless,” she said.
Petkov’s poem ended with the words, “See, we are very fortunate. We are here, now, and good. And we believe in good. And we are only just arriving. Our light is not dying. The potential of our lives has only just begun to illuminate. We are here. We are free. And we are strong.”
Clark also conferred honorary degrees upon the following individuals:
Sumner B. “Tony” Tilton, Jr. is an attorney at Fletcher Tilton P.C. and a life member of the Clark University Board of Trustees. Tilton has been a powerful force for Clark for many years and has helped guide Clark’s relationship with the City of Worcester, now a national model of how a university and municipality can work together for mutual benefit. Tilton Hall is named in recognition of his generous support of Clark. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
S. Paul Reville is professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former Massachusetts Secretary of Education from 2008 to 2012. Described by Governor Deval Patrick as “the father of Massachusetts education reform,” Reville has held numerous leadership positions in the education sector dedicated to the improvement of preK-12 public education. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Michel Sidibé is executive director of UNAIDS and a 25-year public service veteran. Sidibé is committed to transforming the Joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS into a people-centered and results-oriented organization that will eliminate new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.