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Saturday’s gray skies couldn’t cloud up the energy and excitement of Emmanuel College's Class of 2024. At the 102nd Commencement Exercises, graduates were encouraged to follow their curiosity, help others to flourish around them and be the architects of their own destiny.

This year’s commencement speaker was Boston philanthropist and longtime business leader Jack Connors Jr., who received an honorary degree from Emmanuel College in 1985 and served on the College’s Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2011 and again from 2018 to 2023.

After four or more years of dedication to their fields of study, their hard work and perseverance, Connors wondered why graduation ceremonies are known as “commencement.”

“How can this be? After four years of growing, learning and making amazing friendships that could last a lifetime, how can they call this the beginning,” Connors asked.

They began their Emmanuel careers in unprecedented circumstances in 2020, with so many unable to celebrate a high school graduation by normal means. The Class of 2024 was no stranger to perseverance – and even prior to Commencement Day, their hard work was well underway.

“Sad, nervous and excited – [feeling] everything ever,” is how History major Trish Le Dinh '24 described her feelings on the morning of Commencement Day. She said having this celebration felt special for her and her peers after how they had to finish high school and begin their college journeys.

Divanni Polanco, the Class of 2024 Speaker, reflected on how she and the Class of 2024 started their Emmanuel experience – first remotely and then with a hybrid semester, but throughout all of it, together.

“During this time, Emmanuel College came together like never before,” Polanco said, “we adapted, we prayed, we endured and came back together as an even stronger class – we did it.”

Though it might’ve been difficult at times, Polanco credited her fellow graduates with persisting and embodying what it means to be a Saint – remaining dedicated to an educational environment that stays true to ethical principles, social justice and to the global mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Polanco concluded her speech by imparting some final wisdom to her classmates, reminding them that with every obstacle comes an opportunity for more personal growth. “Good better best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is best,” she said.

Moving forward into the next chapter of their lives, Connors implored the Class of 2024 in his speech to pursue a path in life that will make them happy and make the most of the education they’ve earned: “it’s not just a diploma, it’s a ticket to the future,” he said.

Connors explained that when he graduated and pursued his curiosity, advertising, he wanted to be the architect of his own destiny – and he recommended that this year’s graduates do the same: to “do it your way,” and “you have no idea what you can or cannot do until you try. Go for it.”

Lastly, Connors reminded graduates of the importance of giving back.

“There’s a difference between a hand out and a hand up. Why do we do this? Because we can and because we should. So, if you find success, bring someone with you. Help them become successful too. Maybe start with your family, then a few of your neighbors. The joy of helping others is quite real.”

This year’s commencement also saw two honorary degrees awarded to cherished members of the Emmanuel community: Sister Anne M. Donovan, SNDdeN, Treasurer of Emmanuel College and Father Oscar Pratt of Saint Katharine Drexel Parish, a Black Catholic Community, in Roxbury/Dorchester. Both degree recipients offered words of wisdom to the Class of 2024 - read more about them and their impacts on the Emmanuel College community here.

“To the graduates, as you go forward in your life, you will have many questions and decisions that come before you. The answers will not always be readily clear. I pray that you too will take the time to hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your lives."

“Wherever life leads you from this day on, whatever your occupation or station in life, know that you have the tools to bring about truth and freedom, peace and justice; no matter what the circumstances of our times may be, we can all raise people to a new hope."

With the message on his graduation cap, from the song “End of Beginning,” Political Science major Landon Blechinger '24 hoped to reassure not just himself, but his fellow graduates. Blechinger, from California, was in high spirits Saturday morning as he held his cap which read, “just trust me, you’ll be fine.”

“[I’m] far from home,” Blechinger said, “but I’m enjoying the last hurrah here at Emmanuel.”

Speaking at Commencement for the first time as the College’s President, Dr. Beth Ross offered her own words of encouragement to the graduates as they look beyond their time at Emmanuel to future endeavors.

Inheriting a “world in flux,” Ross emphasized the need for people who have the skills to figure things out – which the Class of 2024 has in abundance, she said.

“You have the wisdom and judgement to become the leaders our world needs most. And a range of organizations are taking note. Already, a number of you have accepted full time positions with the likes of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, KPMG, New England Sports Network, and the Office of Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey,” said Ross.

For all of the students moving into careers in Boston and beyond, or taking the next steps in their education in a variety of institutions like Georgetown, Yale or Harvard, Ross left the Class of 2024 with some final parting words.

“You will always have a home here in the Heart of Boston – and you will always be the heart of Emmanuel,” she said.