Parent Magazine

Deval Patrick Speaks at Commencement

Massachusetts governor, comedian Bill Cosby, and City Year cofounder among the day’s honorees

By Rich Barlow and Amy Laskowski

In the video above, Commencement speaker Deval Patrick advises BU’s 2014 graduates that life’s journey is often more important than getting the answers and that real human connection requires intimacy. Video by BU Productions. Photo by Melissa Ostrow

Before nearly 7,000 BU graduates on Sunday, May 18, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick delivered a provocative message for young people: social media isn’t all you crack it up to be.

“Modern society is awash in information and grappling with how to make the most of social media,” the possible future presidential candidate said at the University’s 141st Commencement at Nickerson Field. “It is a force in casual communication, in business marketing, in celebrity. It transformed politics in my first campaign, in Barack Obama’s, and in many campaigns since. But does it help us to connect as human beings? Does it enable us to be present?

“Sometimes, the open-ended question is not about getting to the answer, but rather about the journey, and Google has little to do with that,” the governor said. “Real human connection, the nuance of empathy and understanding, is often more gradual and elongated than Twitter. It requires intimacy. And I worry that the demands of constant communication and infinite information through social media are crowding out intimacy.”

The governor concluded his Commencement address by asking a promise of his listeners: “Sometime today, put your tablet or smartphone aside, look your Mom and Dad in the eye, and tell them that you love them. Hold your roommate’s hand and tell them you appreciate them for helping get you through to today.…Thank one of your teachers in person. Be present—and see what a difference it makes in your lives and the world.” His remarks earned a standing ovation from the graduates and guests.

Patrick, who leaves office in January after two terms, received an honorary Doctor of Laws. Emmy-winning actor and education advocate Bill Cosby, recipient of a Doctor of Humane Letters, responded to graduates’ chanting for a speech with just three baritone-voiced words from one of his most famous characters, Fat Albert: “Hey hey hey!”

Bill Cosby receives his honorary degree at BU’s 141st Commencement. Photo by Kristyn Ulanday (COM’10)

Also receiving honorary degrees: BU trustee Rajen Kilachand (GSM’74), Doctor of Humane Letters; City Year CEO and cofounder Michael Brown, Doctor of Humane Letters; Emmy-nominated actress and writer Mayim Hoya Bialik, Doctor of Humane Letters; and MIT molecular biologist and this year’s Baccalaureate speaker Nancy Hopkins, Doctor of Science.

President Robert A. Brown presented the University’s highest teaching honors to three BU professors. The Metcalf Cup and Prize for Teaching Excellence went to Stormy Attaway (GRS’88), a College of Engineering assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Metcalf Awards for Teaching Excellence to Terry Everson, a College of Fine Arts associate professor of music, and Alan Marscher, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of astronomy.

In the student address, Taryana Gilbeau (COM’14) spoke of her background as the child of a teenaged mother who was told she’d never attend a four-year school, yet succeeded by tapping “my unique story as my motivation” and with the University’s support.

A native of Chicago, Patrick first came to Massachusetts in 1970 at age 14 after being awarded a scholarship to Milton Academy. The first in his family to attend college, he graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. After serving as a law clerk for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, he worked in the private sector, rising to senior positions at Texaco and Coca-Cola. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed him assistant attorney general for civil rights, the nation’s top civil rights post.

Elected governor in 2006 amidst a challenging economic environment, Patrick has expanded the state’s investment in critical growth sectors while cutting state spending. During his tenure, he has funded public education at the highest levels in the history of the commonwealth. Massachusetts’ school reform initiatives earned the top spot in the national Race to the Top competition. Additionally, he has positioned the Bay State as a global leader in biotech, biopharmaceuticals, and information technology, and as a national leader in clean energy.

Patrick oversaw the expansion of affordable health care insurance to more than 98 percent of Massachusetts residents. His administration is also credited with accomplishing major reforms in the state’s pension systems, ethics laws, and transportation bureaucracy.

Cosby dropped out of high school and joined the US Navy. When he left the service four years later, he enrolled at Temple University. While at Temple, he worked part-time as a bartender and quickly learned that he could earn more money in tips if he made his customers laugh. He left college to become a stand-up comedian and began his television career in 1965 with I Spy, as the first African American to costar in a dramatic series. He went on to earn three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He is perhaps best known for his starring role as OB/GYN Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, which ran on NBC from 1984 to 1992 and was one of the highest rated comedies of all time.

Known for his commitment to education and to family, Cosby went back to college in the 1970s, earning a EdD in education from the University of Massachusetts. He has publicly advocated for parents and community leaders to instill values and a sense of responsibility in children from an early age. He was the School of Education’s convocation speaker in 2013. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.

Kilachand is the president and chair of the Dodsal Group, a Dubai-based multinational company with engineering, mining, trading, and hospitality interests. Today, Dodsal is one of the leading energy and infrastructure development companies in the world.

Over the years, Kilachand has made personal philanthropic commitments to support initiatives that span health care, vocational training and education, libraries, teacher-training institutions, and cultural initiatives. He is a sponsor of community theaters and festivals devoted to music and art around the world, including the New Orleans Jazz Festival. He supports AIDS awareness programs in Africa and Papua New Guinea. Kilachand’s gifts to BU total $35 million. He has endowed the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College and Professorship, and he has supported the establishment of Kilachand Hall as the home of the Kilachand Honors College.

Brown is chief executive officer and cofounder of City Year, a Boston-based nonprofit that mobilizes young people for a year of service in high-need schools in 25 US cities. He founded the organization in 1988 with his Harvard roommate, Alan Khazei. Today, 2,700 City Year corps members are helping to address the nation’s high school dropout crisis and turn around low-performing schools by serving as full-time tutors, mentors, and role models in high-need schools across the nation. City Year also has affiliates in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Through its national initiative In School and On Track: A National Challenge, City Year aims to significantly increase the urban graduation pipeline in America. City Year has more than 18,000 alumni who have contributed over 29 million hours of service and earned access to $71 million in college scholarships through the AmeriCorps National Service Trust.

For advancing the national service movement, Brown has been awarded the Reebok Human Rights Award. He has been named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report and an Executive of the Year and a member of the Power and Influence Top 50 by The NonProfit Times.

Bialik first gained attention for her portrayal of Bette Midler’s character as a child in the 1988 movie Beaches and subsequently became widely known for her lead role as Blossom Russo in the early 1990s NBC television comedy Blossom. She now stars in the hit CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory, playing neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler, a role that has earned her two Emmy nominations.

Bialik is especially well suited to portray a neurobiologist: after earning an undergraduate degree from UCLA in 2000 with a major in neuroscience and a minor in Jewish studies and Hebrew, she went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA, in 2007. Her dissertation was titled Hypothalamic Regulation in Relation to Maladaptive, Obsessive-compulsive, Affiliative, and Satiety Behaviors in Prader-Willi Syndrome.

A dedicated student leader at UCLA Hillel, Bialik describes herself as an avid student of all things Jewish, meeting with several study partners weekly and speaking throughout the country on behalf of Jewish and academic institutions and organizations.

A mother and a writer, she is the author of Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way and a vegan cookbook, Mayim’s Vegan Table: More than 100 Great-Tasting and Healthy Recipes from My Family to Yours.

Hopkins is a molecular biologist and the Amgen, Inc., Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a junior at Radcliffe College, considering possible career paths in architecture or medicine, she attended a lecture by James Watson, codiscoverer of the structure of DNA. That lecture inspired her to become a research scientist.

Early in her career, Hopkins became interested in probing the genetics of animal tumor viruses, an interest she pursued as a postdoctoral researcher at Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, working with Watson, her mentor. In 1973, she was invited to join the faculty of MIT at the newly constructed Center for Cancer Research. She changed her research focus from DNA tumor viruses to RNA tumor viruses, before turning to the developmental genetics in zebrafish. Hopkins’s laboratory identified genes essential for zebrafish development, with implications for better understanding development in other species.

Outside the lab, Hopkins initiated an examination of possible gender bias against women scientists; a summary of the study was published in 1999. In 2000, she was named cochair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT, along with BU President Robert A. Brown, then MIT provost. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A version of this story previously appeared on BU Today.

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