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Emerson Grads Set Off to Tell Their Stories

Emerson College awarded 975 bachelor’s degrees and 295 master’s degrees on May 8 in front of family, friends, faculty, and staff who packed Boston University’s Agganis Arena to congratulate the new graduates.

The undergraduate ceremony kicked off around 10:00 am with a procession of students in creatively bedecked mortar boards led by bagpipers and featured novelist Alice Sebold, who also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Emerson.

Sebold, author of the bestseller The Lovely Bones, which was made into a film in 2009, gave a warm and personal speech peppered with dark memories, witty asides, and straightforward advice. She talked about her rape in college, a parade of unpublished manuscripts and grad school rejections in her young adulthood, and her realization that she could choose the “lenses through which [she] viewed her life.”

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All of Commencement 2016’s speakers focused in some way on the “grave responsibility” the graduates now have as the people who will shape the stories we consume, whether fictional or true.

Here are excerpts from some of the other speakers:

Danielle Legros Georges ’86

Boston’s Poet Laureate

Recipient, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

Graduate Speaker

“If I tell you my story, I will be less of a stranger to you, and you’ll be less of a stranger to me if I know and study yours. We will be able to convey to each other what we are and represent each other in a way that ideally reflects our common humanity. I’m less likely to demonize you if I know you suffer as I do; take joy in what the world brings as I do; have pity, concern, courage, and honor as I do.

“I tell you my story because you are creators, gatherers, shapers, and disseminators of information and stories. You facilitate pathways for those who cannot easily initially tell their own stories. You craft narratives that encourage us to consume useful and desirable goods. You use stories to entertain, inform, persuade, and challenge us. Your engagement in stories will help create our culture and shape our aesthetic and practical realities. It already has in big and small ways.

“This is pretty serious work you’re doing, accompanied by a grave responsibility, especially for those who may have fewer cultural mirrors.”

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Taylor Jett

BA, Studio Television Production

Undergraduate Student Speaker

“Eventually, we will have jobs we’ve dreamed of for years, but we cannot ignore the in-between phases when we are PAs, or interns, or assistants somewhere. Let’s face it, it’s bound to happen to some of us, and perhaps the first day on a new set isn’t the best time to speak up. We may feel like we should talk less and smile more. But it’s important to continually stay grounded in our ideals, so that when the opportunity presents itself, we still have something worth saying…

“Class of 2016, I want to leave you with these words from [filmmaker] Ava DuVernay: ‘If your dream only includes you, it is too small.’ As we take these steps toward our future, please dream big.

“As you write for The New York Times, as you’re elected to a position of influence, as you develop an innovative early childhood speech intervention model, dream as big as you can. When you publish the next Great American Novel, as you write and star in a Broadway show, or as you create marketing strategies for Pixar’s next big hit, dream past what that title can do for you, and rather, imagine what you can do, and who you can help, with the power of that title and the megaphone it gives you.”

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Maria Toru

MA, Communication Management

Graduate Student Speaker

“You realize that the first step in effective communication is to empathize with others, even when you don’t agree with them. Everyone has a belief system. Everyone has sacred values…

“Today, standing here reminds me of how I—actually, all of us—are part of something so much bigger. Today, the world as we know it is engulfed in crises. Some people fear it, rightly so. But we here at Emerson embrace it, because we know crisis means opportunity. Opportunity for the adept and adaptive leaders. Leaders who are change agents. As a change agent, we present to you the new normal, the pathway forward.

“This Pashtun girl returns home as a change agent, brimming with confidence provided by Emerson College, facilitated by Fulbright, in the beautiful city of Boston. I leave this prestigious college much, much more appreciative of the commonalities that unite us and more aware of the differences that make this diverse community at Emerson so unforgettably beautiful. Today, we leave Emerson with the promise to replace violence with hope, war with peace, hate with love, because I know each and every one of us has the power to shape the world beyond our home.”

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President Lee Pelton

“Whether in the communication fields of Journalism, Marketing, Communication Sciences and Disorders, or in the arts fields of poems and plays and fiction, and making films; whether you will tell and shape the stories in front of or behind the camera; whether you will be marketing and public relations experts or actors or writers or preachers or producers, you will wield enormous power and enormous responsibility.

“You will frame the issues we address and how we respond to them. You will present products and services that change the world. You will enable democracies to function by creating informed citizens. And you will awaken giants from their sleep to broaden the diversity of our theaters, of our films, and of our studios…

“I hope you will come to understand that your education here was deeply rooted and connected to human experience and human endeavor. And that the process by which you deepen your connection to live in the world will excite you, it will inspire you, it will befuddle you, it will delight you, it will confound you every day of your life.”

Watch the speech

In addition to Sebold and Legros Georges, investigative reporter Juan González, until his recent retirement a 38-year columnist at the New York Daily News and co-host of the radio/television show Democracy Now!, also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Jasmine Reyes, BS, Journalism, was given the Dean’s Award by Interim Dean of Students Sharon Duffy, and Jett was awarded the President’s Citation by President Lee Pelton. Abijeet Achar, MFA, Media Art, and Kevin Pasternak, MS, Communication Disorders, were co-recipients of the Dean of Graduate Studies Award. Elisse Kimie-Ota Kang, MFA, Creative Writing, was given the President’s Award during the Graduate ceremony.

Daniel Kempler, professor and Communication Disorders program coordinator in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department, and DeWitt Henry, professor in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department, who are retiring, were given emeritus status.

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