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“Generation We” Hears a Challenge

Speakers tell Class of 2009 to strive for more than success


Congressman Michael Capuano (Hon.’09) (above), Larry Bird (Hon.’09) (middle), and Steven Spielberg (Hon.’09) (bottom), congratulated by President Robert A. Brown. Photos by Winslow Martin

Boston University grew a little smaller for a few hours on Sunday, as the Class of 2009 gathered around Nickerson Field, awaiting the start of the University’s 136th Commencement. Sophomore-year roommates reunited. Freshman-year intramural teammates reminisced. And graduates from all 18 schools and colleges tweaked their tassels, adjusted their mortarboards, and gathered one final time in a ceremony that celebrated the power of the individual.

“It’s nice to be able to see everyone I haven’t seen in years,” said student marshal Amisha Patel (CAS’09). “It’s nice getting all that closure.”

“I’ve taken about 200 pictures this past week alone,” added Von Bryan Suresca (SMG’09), senior class president of the School of Management.

The ceremony was notable for the presence of luminaries both local and national. Honorary degree recipients Larry Bird (Hon.’09) and Steven Spielberg (Hon.’09) drew the loudest cheers and cries of “Larry Legend!” and “Steven, give me a job!” But student speaker Daniel Bellin (ENG’09) and honorary degree recipient Congressman Michael Capuano (Hon.’09) took a more local approach in their addresses, emphasizing connections to campus and community, urging graduates to work as individuals to harness the power of their generation.

Bellin, a biomedical engineering major, who will pursue a doctorate in electrical engineering at Columbia University next year, commended his classmates for the commitments to service, multiculturalism, and social change that have earned them the nickname “Generation We.” But he also noted how many challenges lie ahead.

“Isn’t it a problem that 11 of the 12 warmest years in history have occurred after 1995?” he asked. “Isn’t it a problem that we still haven’t cured diabetes? That we still haven’t cured heart disease? That we haven’t come close to curing cancer? Isn’t it a problem that somehow, somehow the inhabitants of our planet have yet to find a way to live together in peace? Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. But I know that Generation We is ready and well-prepared to confront these challenges.”

Capuano, who represents the state’s Eighth District (which includes Boston University) in Washington, D.C., expressed similar confidence in the graduates’ abilities, but warned them against the temptation to focus only on personal success and material comfort.

“Your life will be very easy if you ignore the rest of the world — you can build a very comfortable life for yourselves,” he said. “But you’ll always know that you didn’t challenge yourself to something bigger, something greater. I call on you to use some of that ability, some of those talents, some of that drive to change the world.”

Capuano — who acknowledged some objections to his selection as Commencement speaker, saying, “If this is the biggest disappointment of your life, you’re the luckiest people in the world” — drew on his family history to illustrate the challenges and triumphs that prior generations have faced. His mother, he said, lived in a cold-water walk-up apartment on nearby Ashford Street, never went to college, and never owned a home. The highlight of her week was attending Boston Braves baseball games on Ladies’ Night at what is now Nickerson Field. But her generation, Capuano said, defeated the Nazis, split the atom, and invented the middle class.

Capuano pointed to rising divorce rates, the Vietnam War, racial and social inequality, and Communism as the trials faced by his contemporaries, and he noted the progress made in environmental awareness, gender equality, gay rights, and humanitarian efforts.

“We met some of those challenges successfully, but others are still here today,” he said. “We built a better world than we found. Now it’s your turn — we’re almost done.”

The country’s economic crisis is the most pressing challenge for this year’s graduates, he said, but he encouraged them to look beyond the present when setting goals.

“The most important question most of us will face is a question you’ll ask yourself every single week: how can you make your own lives matter?” he said. “The answer I can’t give you. But if you seek to improve the things that you can, you will matter to yourself.”

During the ceremony, the Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching was presented jointly, for only the third time in the award’s 36-year history, to Tom Gilmore, an Arts & Sciences professor of biology, and Michelle LaCourse, an associate professor and chair of strings in the College of Fine Arts school of music; the Metcalf Award went to Peter Busher, a College of General Studies professor and chair of the division of natural science. Honorary degrees were awarded to Capuano; Baccalaureate speaker Gloria White-Hammond (CAS’72, Hon.’09), a pediatrician and co-pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston; J Allard (CAS’91, Hon.’09), the chief experience officer and chief technology officer of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division; Bird, former Boston Celtics player and president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers; BU trustee Alan Leventhal (Hon.’09), the former chairman of BU’s Board of Trustees; and filmmaker Spielberg.

University President Robert A. Brown concluded the ceremony with a charge that echoed the speakers’ themes.

“To the Class of 2009,” he said, “go into the world and make it a better place for all of us.”

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.


One Comment on “Generation We” Hears a Challenge

  • Shailesh on 05.21.2009 at 7:50 pm

    Commencement 2009


    Congratulation Amisha Patel (CAS’09)
    The fiery commencement speech given by

    Congressman Michael Capuano (Hon.’09) was excellent. It should ring in everyone’s ear for days & months to come.

    Our thanks to the administration & staff members of Boston University for arranging such well organized event.


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