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NewsMay 18, 2024

‘A story of persistance and perspective’: Lesley Community celebrates new graduates at Commencement 2024

For the first time in recent history, Lesley University undergrads, graduate, and Threshold students came together in a combined ceremony to celebrate their achievements in a unified Commencement on May 18, 2024.

Crowd shot of Lesley commmencement 2024.

For the first time in recent history, Lesley University undergrads, graduate, and Threshold students came together in a combined ceremony to celebrate their achievements in a unified Commencement on May 18, 2024. 

Incredible talent in the form of several hundred graduates in Education, Mental Health and Wellness, Liberal Arts and Business, and the Arts filled the Leader Bank Pavilion in Boston’s historic and bustling Seaport to receive their hard-earned honors and hear from their Commencement Speaker, renowned author and naturalist Sy Montgomery, who was granted an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters. Before that, Lesley University President Janet Steinmayer was honored to call on some Lesley graduates who especially embody in their heart the motto of Lesley University: periissem ni perstitissem, or, I would have perished had I not persisted. That motto has a certain echo for the Class of 2024, given many of the Class of 2020 didn’t have a graduation ceremony at all due to the pandemic.  

President Steinmayer shared with the class her love of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which involves mending pottery with a lacquer made with powdered gold, making what was broken more beautiful than it was before. The metaphor, said Steinmayer, might be obvious for Lesley’s artists but perhaps they could extend it to thinking of breaking old ways of thinking; educators and mental health professionals perhaps could imagine introducing new understandings and thoughts –using that ‘golden glue’ said Steinmayer—to make a ‘a stronger, more beautiful whole. 

President Janet Steinmayer addressing the 2024 graduates at Commencement.

“What you have learned at Lesley will allow you to be the menders, illuminators, connectors and unifiers who embrace life’s imperfections and produce more beautiful outcomes,” said President Steinmayer, urging graduates to ‘go boldly’ into life. 

One of those people who went boldly is Lesley’s 2024 Undergraduate Speaker, Daphne Freeman. She came to Lesley to study Art Therapy, but fell in love with teaching. She is graduating from Lesley with degrees in education and biology. She urged the Class of 2024 to “Be who you needed.”  

Lesley 2024 Commencement Speaker Daphne Freeman '24

Another person who went boldly and far is Barbara Bethea. That is Dr. Barbara Bethea, Lesley’s 2024 Graduate Speaker, who traveled from New York through the pandemic to earn her doctorate in Expressive Therapies. She is the Director of the Creative Arts Therapy Program at Rikers Island. She is the first African-American poetry therapist in New York State. She says keep going.

Lesley 2024 Commencement Speaker Barbara Betheda, Ph.D. '24


Sy Montgomery, after being given an honorary doctorate of honors from Lesley University, then turned to the crowd. She told the tented Pavilion, full of joyous grads and their families, that things would go horribly wrong in their lives, and that was both good and bad news. What you need to do when that happens, said Montgomery, is change your perspective. To her, that meant climbing a tree in the Peruvian Amazon to get a better view of pink dolphins in the water below. She said: 

Sy Montgomery speaking to the Lesley graduates at Commencement.

“Up I climbed, past two oropendola nests—two sets of parent birds had wisely built their purse-like nurseries alongside an enormous wasp nest, bigger than a pumpkin. It was like having the police station in your neighborhood. Up I climbed, past a giant, swollen termite nest, which smelled of cedar. The insects use this scent to repel other insects. Up I climbed, past vines who were climbing with me, only slower, on their hunt for light. I climbed up past one branch where a plant called a bromeliad perched—a relative of the pineapple, its overlapping leaves form a bowl in which rainwater collects. I looked in. Inside the bowl, there was a mini-world of water, a tiny lake, full of its own biota.  

 She went on. 

“Then I reached the top of the rope, and looked down. Below me, I saw parakeets zooming, butterflies fluttering—and water still as dark and impenetrable as night. I could see no dolphins. So--was my climb a failure? Far from it! I didn’t see what I expected or hoped to see—a better view of something I already knew. Instead, I had been given a glimpse of a treetop world few of us here in the USA even dream of exists on this planet. I was given a view far more exciting and profound; an unexpected insight, a surprise gift, and that’s a pretty good working definition of a blessing.” 

She told the Lesley University Class of 2024 to not be afraid to take risks, and fail, because that is where success is often found. 

Lesley University offers its congratulations to the Class of 2024! 


If you missed the Lesley University Commencement, find it here

Look for Sy Montgomery at Lesley University on CSPAN Book TV this summer!