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Graduation has been a long time coming for this year’s Commencement student speaker. Maxwell T. Robidoux entered BU as a freshman in 2010, but left after just three semesters.
“I matriculated in 2010, and was here a year and a half before taking time off and moving back home to Seattle,” says Robidoux (CAS’17). “I was sure I hated Boston and the East Coast, and I wanted to move back home where everything made sense. But after a while, I realized that Boston wasn’t that bad and wasn’t that different, and that I had made the right choice originally. It was a period of self-discovery.”
Robidoux had taken classes at a local college while he was back in Seattle, and after returning to campus in fall 2016, he hit his stride, changing his major from social work to psychology and sociology and becoming vice president of the BU Pre-Law Review. The 25-year-old is now waiting to learn whether he’s been accepted to BU’s School of Law for the fall.
On May 21, Robidoux will address an estimated 25,000 people at the University’s 144th Commencement. Each spring, graduating seniors are invited to submit a potential Commencement address to a faculty committee. This year, the committee went through 62 submissions before settling on 5 finalists, who then had to deliver their speech in a mock Commencement setting.
His speech will focus on the importance of intellectual integrity, an issue that has taken on increased urgency after President Donald Trump accused CNN of reporting what he calls fake news. “What responsibility do we as college graduates have to uphold intellectual integrity and propagate its values?” Robidoux asks. “It’s a scary time. I personally put so much value in empiricism and objectivity, reason and rationality, and I feel like all of those values are under assault right now. It’s something I really wanted to address.”
Robidoux’s speech “stood out for its passionate commitment to the intellectual values of integrity, humility, the courage to probe, and the mandate to question the status quo.”—Elizabeth Loizeaux
Selection committee member Elizabeth Loizeaux, associate provost for undergraduate affairs and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English, says Robidoux’s speech “stood out for its passionate commitment to the intellectual values of integrity, humility, the courage to probe, and the mandate to question the status quo. He boldly challenges the Class of 2017 to recognize the responsibility that comes with their education: to ask critical questions, to speak against injustice and dishonesty, to make decisions informed by fact and reason—in short, to improve the global society they are now entering as Boston University graduates.”
Not surprising for someone who lists Law & Order as one of his favorite shows and its fictional district attorney, Jack McCoy (played by Sam Waterston), as one of his personal heroes, Robidoux hopes to become a criminal prosecutor. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a trial attorney, and I was passionate about speech and debate early on,” he says. “In college, I really honed my focus on criminal law, through my study of psychology and sociology.” He won an American Sociological Association Departmental Prize and is a member of the Alpha Kappa Delta International Sociology Honor Society.
In addition to his academic work, Robidoux is a court mediator, certified to mediate in Boston Municipal Court, Massachusetts District Court, and Massachusetts Superior Court. He believes he is the only college-age mediator in the city.
One of the highlights of his undergraduate experience was visiting Bridgewater State Hospital with one of his classes. The medium-security prison, run by the Massachusetts Department of Correction, houses individuals who cannot be kept in regular jails.
Robidoux is a former equestrian show jumper; he decided to move back to Seattle sophomore year, in part, because he missed being around his horses. “I competed in the amateur divisions in middle and high school, all up and down the West Coast, and I wanted to try my hand at professional competition when I moved back,” he says. “I fell off at my first show and got a concussion; first time I’ve had an injury that bad at a competition. Then my horse got injured. It wasn’t meant to be.”
Although he’s a practicing mediator and was a member of the debate club in high school, Robidoux acknowledges being a bit nervous about speaking before an audience of thousands of people Sunday.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to some extent about giving the speech,” he says.
“I’m really excited. I believe that if you’re an effective speaker you can transfix people, influence the way they think and feel. It’s something that I can use to do a lot of good in the world.”
More information about Commencement can be found here.