The skies on June 2 for Concord Academy’s 95th Commencement exercise were bright. The class of 2017 and their families listened to many words of reflection, celebration, and encouragement, while the values of the community took pride of place. From one speaker to the next, the message was clear: The future is bright in the hands of this generation.
Opening the ceremony, Board of Trustees President Kim Williams P’08, ’14 welcomed graduating seniors into the “legions of difference makers” that make up the CA alumnae/i, noting the “special bond between CA students that transcends the decades.”
Head of School Rick Hardy described the sense of joy that this class of graduates embodies — of optimism and goodwill, even while tackling difficult work. “You have given me hope,” he said, during a year of deepening polarization that has eroded civility. He cited listening with respect and decency and pursuing truth and knowledge with passion as the core of the values that define CA. “Doing these simple things,” Hardy said, “can be transformative — to a person and to a community.”
Student Head of School Mary Craig ’17 acknowledged the faculty and staff who supported and inspired the class of 2017, as teachers and coaches, advisers and house parents. “We came to them with dreams and ideas, and they taught us how to make them real,” she said. “They taught us that we are a force to be reckoned with, and as a result we are truly limitless in our abilities.”
Senior Class President Emma Manzella ’17 introduced Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, this year’s commencement speaker, to much applause. She noted that in her campaign, Healey had pledged to reduce gun violence, federally legalize same-sex marriage, and protect reproductive rights, and that despite knowing these promises would be difficult to fulfill, “nevertheless, she persisted.” Manzella described Healey as “an incredibly inspiring role model of civil rights activism.”
“Ordinarily you invite somebody like me to come and speak and to offer all of you words of wisdom or general advice,” Healey said. “But we are not living in ordinary times, are we?” In her buoyant and animating address, she situated the graduating seniors’ final year at CA within the context of an unprecedented presidential campaign and what, in her words, has felt like a rollercoaster ride ever since.
“As I thought about what to say to you this morning, I thought about the values that define this community, your community” Healey said. “A love of learning and a pursuit of knowledge; a belief in diversity and diverse perspectives; and, of course, common trust, the idea that we’re not just here for ourselves, we’re here to help one another.” They’re values that guide her work in the Attorney General’s Office, she said. (And they’re the reason she has hired so many CA graduates — including Mike Firestone ’01, Dave Cavell ’02, Yael Shavit ’03, not to mention Harry Breault ’16, an intern this summer.) These are the same values that are under attack from the current administration, Healey said, citing the firing of scientists, harassment of journalists, and disparagement of immigrants, racial and religious minority groups and LGBTQ Americans.
“So before I offer you any advice, I’m here to ask for your help,” Healey said. “Because we need you. We need your spirit, your passion, your compassion and tenacity. … We need you to stand up for the values of CA in your community, the values of a free society. We need you to commit to ideals like intellectual honesty, social justice, and equality. And the common trust.”
A CA education has prepared graduates to be advocates wherever life takes them, Healey said. “The common trust doesn’t just exist; it is built,” she continued. “A belief in science doesn’t just happen; it’s supported, with resources, care, and attention, and people who are trained to engage. And inclusion and equality aren’t achieved simply through T-shirts and slogans but in the act of simply extending a hand, giving a hug, and speaking out at every turn, whenever you see injustice, discrimination, bigotry, or hatred.”
“Stay curious, stay humble, and stay kind.”She recounted flying into Boston’s Logan Airport the day President Trump signed the travel ban. Amid the confusion and chaos, she witnessed hundreds of individuals, immigration lawyers and translators, arriving to help detained travelers reach their families. In the following days, others spoke out and joined the fight that led to overturning two different travel bans. “It happened because people of goodwill from all walks of life, who brought different talents and experiences and abilities to the table, came together to show and reflect that they had a personal stake in what was happening,” Healey said.
–Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General
She didn’t paint the path ahead as easy: the challenges facing the United States, and the world, will fall to this new generation. Lest anyone feel uncertain as to where to begin or what to do, she recounted her own nonlinear path to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office — which included a period in Austria pursuing a career as a professional basketball player before law school — and calmly urged the graduates not to stress.
Her advice: “It’s OK to trust your gut, even when everybody is telling you it may not be the best move. Because at the end of the day, you have everything that you need. You have that foundation through your experiences, and your education, learned here at CA. Stay curious, stay humble, and stay kind.”
After diplomas were awarded, the class of 2017 filed out to receive hugs and handshakes from faculty and staff. With their families, they headed over to a reception on the Quad to enjoy their final gathering as students, filled with the promise ahead of them.