Lesley celebrated master’s and doctoral degree recipients from the Graduate School of Education and the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences, while recognizing obstacles students overcame during the pandemic, and the challenges ahead.
The atmosphere was buoyant at Lesley’s first in-person Commencement in three years as students and faculty exchanged hugs and warm greetings with classmates and friends, some of whom they had only seen on Zoom screens.
The importance of community and human connections in the face of unexpected challenges, injustice and uncertainty, were themes that ran throughout the morning’s speeches. The number of speakers who were unable to attend due to illness was a sober reminder of the pandemic’s continuing impact, even as the community rejoiced in an in-person event.
View more photos from the Commencement ceremony for the Graduate School of Education and Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences.
Chair of Lesley’s Board of Trustees Hans Strauch and Provost Jonathan Jefferson granted degrees and certificates to approximately 1,130 graduates in the Class of 2022 on Commencement day. The ceremonies also honored the 2,500 degrees awarded to the classes of 2021 and 2020, whose Commencements were held virtually due to the pandemic.
In a gastronomically-themed speech, President Janet L. Steinmayer exhorted the graduates to pursue human connection with flexibility, compassion and creativity.
“Lesley’s ‘secret sauce’ is blended in the myriad ways you have learned to collaborate across disciplines and differences to produce a richer and more satisfying ‘meal,’” said Steinmayer. “Our bruised and imperfect world is hungry for what you can, and will, bring to the table.”
Assistant Professor Joe Mageary’s citation of Geeta Pradhan, president of the Cambridge Community Foundation, praised her as an innovator whose work has strengthened local organizations.
“With your remarkable vision and dedication to supporting shared prosperity, social equity, and cultural richness through grantmaking, civic leadership, and philanthropic partnerships,” he said, “your work unites us in community.”
Planting the “money tree”
Pradhan thanked three people “who helped me become who I am today — my parents and my dear husband. I hope you are watching from up there!” before addressing the graduates.
“Being here today to celebrate you is a great honor for someone like me…I don’t have grandiose stories to inspire you with, but I know that I love my work, I love my community. I feel good when I have made a difference in someone’s life, and I just cannot bear to see human dignity crushed.”
She spoke about the obstacles that graduating students face and the “passion, compassion and grit” that they would need to overcome them.
“I don’t know that there’s a better institution than Lesley University to produce a class of graduates prepared to take on the world’s challenges. Whether you’re pursuing a life in education, arts, or counseling, you’ve already raised your hands to help strengthen our social fabric…The fact that you are here today, poised to step up, gives me great faith in our future — for our communities and the world.”
She told a story of how, as a little girl growing up in India, she and her siblings would get a quarter as their weekly allowance. While the others spent theirs immediately on candy and treats, Pradhan planted her quarter in the ground, imagining that a money tree would blossom and grow. Eventually, she forgot about the buried quarters.
“A few years ago, my family was sitting together recounting stories of our childhood and I mentioned the money tree. My brother and sister looked at each other and burst out laughing…you see, as soon as I was done planting my quarter, they would dig it up and split it between the two of them!
“And now you must be thinking, what does this naïve and gullible story have to do with us? To me, this story speaks about the power of imagined possibilities — the hope I carried about what I would do once my tree grew. And in a strange twist of fate, today, as the leader of Cambridge’s Community’s Foundation I am literally planting money in our community — seeding ideas, launching social innovations, investing in programs, fostering the dreams of our city’s youth, of parents who wish to change their futures, of educators, and nonprofits.
“I truly believe that my quarters turned into money trees. It just took a lot longer than I expected.”
Lesley graduates answer a calling
Interim Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences Sandra Walker extended warm praise of the creative ways that graduates managed to carry on with their studies and maintain momentum. “Covid is still with us,” she said, “but we are moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other.”
She introduced graduate speaker Tosh Chabot Alsagoff, who stepped in to read a speech prepared by multimedia artist and dance therapist Kevana West, who had to miss the ceremony due to illness.
Alsagoff invited attendees to spend a moment observing their breath. “There’s no need to change anything, just be curious. What is the pace and overall quality of your breath? Is it rapid and shallow or deep and sustained; again, there is no need to make any adjustments, just notice. I’m curious about where your breath lives. Can you feel it deep in the pit of your belly, or perhaps it’s concentrated just beneath your rib cage? Or maybe with all of today’s excitement, you find that your breath has taken up residence in the area around your shoulders.”
Congratulating the graduates on their achievements, Alsagoff delivered West’s passionate words that recognized the extraordinary circumstances faced by their generation of scholars.
“Those of us who arrive at Lesley do so to answer a calling, and it is my deeply held belief that, this cohort specifically, was called to address the aftermath of an ongoing pandemic and global civil unrest. We were forged in the fire, but we did not buckle, we were creative and resilient. We were among the many professionals to develop new approaches in response to widespread hardship and isolation, and it was through our commitment to education, that we earned our stripes well before graduation. We are a class of risk takers and change makers, and I believe that we have inherited the task of dismantling the systems that led us to our current crisis.”
Dr. Stephanie Spadorcia, interim associate dean and associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, read a message from Interim Dean Amy Rutstein-Riley, who couldn’t attend the ceremony due to illness, urging graduates to harness their experiences during the pandemic to take a transformative approach to teaching.
“The disruption of schooling as we know it has impacted educators, students, and families who now need healing, a sense of belonging, and re-engagement,” Spadorcia said. “Together, we can transform our systems — not going ‘back to normal,’ but generating more equitable, inclusive, and student-centered learning environments.”
She introduced student speaker Jennifer Etesse Herring, who spoke on behalf of Catrice Tucker, a graduate of the Early Childhood program. Tucker, who did her student teaching at the Capuano School in Somerville, urged her fellow graduates to make one-on-one connections with students and their families and to consider what a big impact even small gestures could have. She told a story about a pre-K student named Lila who would often ask to hold her hand on the way outside to recess. The two would walk slowly behind the other students, and Lila would tell Catrice about her family or what she was doing after school.
“On my last day in class, Lila came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for holding my hand so much Mrs. Tucker — it helped me when I was feeling a little sad.’…As I left my student teaching experience, I was showered with so much love and appreciation from the young children and their families, I realized that I had made an impact on them even during that short time.”
Trustee Lynda-Lee Sheridan ’80, ’87, past president of Lesley’s Alumni Association, welcomed graduates into the Alumni Association, standing in for Alumni Council President Zalika Winitzer who was unable to attend due to illness. She recognized the classes of 2020 and 2021 who hadn’t had the chance to have an in-person graduation and encouraged all graduates to stay in touch with their Lesley family and support future Lesley students.
“Knowing firsthand the value of a Lesley education, I am fully confident in each of you to make a positive impact in our world.”