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Eric Holder: Today’s Challenges Spur Tomorrow’s Hope

All-University exercises under sunny skies

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In the slide show above, take in the sights and sounds of BU’s Commencement. Watch Eric H. Holder’s speech below.

Serious troubles plague our nation, including an inadequate justice system, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., who oversees that system, told the audience of graduates and their families and guests at BU’s 137th Commencement Sunday. But Holder said the graduates possess the talents to tackle these and other problems. 

The nation’s top cop saluted the progress the country has made in areas such as race relations as he received an honorary Doctor of Laws, invoking both his status as the nation’s first African-American attorney general and the fact that the country and the commonwealth of Massachusetts have black chief executives.

But “for many Americans, economic recovery hasn’t come quickly enough — particularly for your generation, which faces fewer job prospects than usual,” Holder told the Class of 2010. “There are also more systemic threats to our society: terrorists who live only to murder the innocent; an environment in the balance and at the mercy of mankind; a justice system whose promise of fairness is too often compromised by the large number of defendants who cannot afford or access representation; and the alarming number of children who are exposed to crime, violence, and disease.”

Holder and student speaker Jonathan L. Priester (COM’10), also African-American, summoned the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59), who earned a doctorate here. The attorney general quoted King’s “Mountaintop” speech on the night before his murder, in which he said that happiness comes from confronting misfortune: “I know that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars,” King said.

One of the threats Holder alluded to surfaced close to home as the University was in the throes of this year’s Commencement preparations. Three days earlier, the FBI raided a nearby Brookline gas station and a Watertown home, leading to the arrests of two Pakistani men alleged to have a financial connection to the recent foiled bombing attempt in New York City’s Times Square.

A benevolent sun shone on Nickerson Field as 6,000-plus graduates of 17 schools and colleges laughed often at the attorney general’s humorous local references, as when he said, “Your years of study at BU were a luxury — especially for those of you lucky enough to live in StuVi2.”

Holder also paid tribute to the upcoming service of members of the Class of 2010: “One of you will be volunteering in Haiti, another will be entering the Teach for America program. One of you plans to move to India to launch a film company focusing on socially conscious topics. And — tomorrow — one of you will be commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. 

“From this day forward, you must do your part to improve the world around you,” Holder said. “As of today, you not only have the ability and the credibility, you also have the responsibility.”

Priester too spun humor and hope into his message, pivoting off an inscription at Marsh Chapel, which wishes for future BU students “a vision of greatness” that “will become habitual and result in moral progress.” Priester said the University lived that motto, having survived wars, the Great Depression, the Great Boston Fire of 1872, deficits, and “a rather notorious concert from the rapper Coolio.”

“Despite each of these challenges, Boston University has managed to continually emerge victorious over ignorant, regressive traditions that had long gone unchallenged,” he said, citing King’s BU graduation at a time of rampant discrimination against African-Americans in higher education and in society. Anti-black prejudice lingered when his own parents, the Hon. Melvin Priester (SED’72,’73) and E. Charlene Stimley Priester (COM’73), fell in love as BU students.

“Some 40 years later, I am honored to be graduating from my parents’ school, a school with the single-mindedness to do what is right,” Priester said. “I am confident that as we leave this place, Boston University has given us all the tools necessary to make greatness our habit.”

In another echo of that earlier, tumultuous time, the Class of 1970 — whose Commencement was canceled in the wake of national unrest following the National Guard’s fatal shooting of four Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War — shared in the 2010 graduation. Trustee Kenneth Feld (SMG’70) presented his classmates to President Robert A. Brown for a ceremonial conferral of their degrees.

“Your college years at Boston University ended like no other in the history of this institution,” Brown said, “and it is my hope that no class will ever experience a conclusion like that again.”

To Sunday’s newer, younger graduates, Brown gave the charge, “Go into the world and make it a better place.”

Commencement marked the presentation of this year’s Metcalf Awards, the University’s highest teaching honors: the Metcalf Cup and Prize went to J. Gregory McDaniel, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, and the Metcalf Awards were given to John Caradonna, an associate professor of chemistry in the College of Arts & Sciences, and Sandra Nicolucci (CFA’68,’69, SED’77), an associate professor of music and music education in the College of Fine Arts.

Besides Holder, honorary degrees went to playwright Edward Albee, Doctor of Letters; civil rights lawyer and Ford administration transportation secretary William T. Coleman, Jr., Doctor of Laws; Nobel-winning chemist and School of Medicine Professor Emeritus Osamu Shimomura, Doctor of Science; and Wafaa El-Sadr, a Columbia University professor of medicine and epidemiology and activist for HIV prevention and care in poor nations, Doctor of Science.


Watch this video on YouTube

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu. Nathaniel Boyle can be reached at nboyle@bu.edu.

3 Comments

3 Comments on Eric Holder: Today’s Challenges Spur Tomorrow’s Hope

  • Anonymous on 05.17.2010 at 9:12 am

    Since when is “good afternoon” a mandatory applause line?

  • Anonymous on 05.17.2010 at 6:55 pm

    I think my capacity to be inspired by the Civil Rights movement is now fully exhausted after four years of hearing about MLK’s doctorate from BU.

  • DRB on 05.17.2010 at 9:33 pm

    It is called Manners!

    He was not seeking applause. He was looking for the audience to respond with “good afternoon”. It is called manners. In Barbadian culture (part of his heritage) this is what you say when addressing a person you meet or an audience. I am a Barbadian so I totally understood.

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