There will be much to remember from Merrimack College’s 73rd Commencement.
With more than 1,250 graduates recognized, the Class of 2023 was the largest in the College’s history. The number of graduates and Merrimack’s growing stature as a higher education institution is what led to the implementation this year of a Conferral of Degrees ceremony and School-Based Degree Recognition ceremonies.
The weekend kicked off in the afternoon on Friday, May 19, with the Baccalaureate Mass and the conferral of degrees at Duane Stadium. Fr. Raymond Dlugos, vice president of mission and ministry, celebrated the mass and in his homily, shared the importance of loving and accepting others as Jesus did.
“We are invited to see as Jesus sees,” he said, “which means seeing through what we might consider flaws and imperfections, sources of shame and guilt, all the ways we do not measure up to the standards the world around us seems to set…Instead Jesus simply looks at us with love, and calls us friends.”
“It was a lot of hard work,” said Kyle Muldoon ’23, who received his bachelor’s degree in corporate finance investment. “There was a lot of juggling a bunch of things. But we’re here now.”
The Class of 2023 saw its college experience interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, having started at Merrimack in the fall of 2019. But in his address to the graduates, Merrimack College President Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D. commended their perseverance.
“As I stand before you all, I see a graduating class shaped by circumstances beyond their control,” he said. “I see a generation of college students who persevered through a time of great turmoil. I see exceptional Merrimack College students whose tremendous efforts we celebrate this weekend…To all the graduates here, thank you for being role models for the rest of us.”
Friday’s ceremony also featured remarks from student speakers Jessica Almeida M’23 and Michael Fernandez ’23, as well as honorary degrees given to Merrimack College Board of Trustees Chairman and alumnus Jack Boyce ’81, and the Rev. Nicholas Sannella, J.D., M.D., pastor of the Lowell Collaborative, Archdiocese of Boston.
Boyce served as the keynote speaker at the first School-Based Degree Recognition ceremony on Saturday, May 20, addressing graduates from the Girard School of Business and the School of Science and Engineering.
“The career in front of you now and for many years to come is really about opening doors,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just simply saying yes. You’ve all given yourself the ability to open doors and make choices, and you should know that these choices are rarely permanent. But as you pick something up, you make the next potential choice available.”
One of the students to receive their diploma during that ceremony was Mike Chankhour ‘23, who received his bachelor’s in civil engineering. “It all finally paid off,” he said triumphantly.
His mother, Janet, said she had been waiting for this day for years.
“He’s the third in line,” she said, referencing her other two children. “It’s always that much more exciting and an honor to have another graduate.”
The second degree recognition ceremony of the day was for the graduates from the Winston School of Education and Social Policy. During her commencement address, Stacey Ciprich, H’22, principal of Abbott Lawrence Academy, challenged the graduates to “find their ‘why’” and stay true to it when out in the professional world.
“What was the moment that made you say, ‘Yes, I want to be a social worker,’ ‘I want to be a teacher,’ ‘I want to go into law enforcement,’” she said. “Your ‘why’ is what’s going to drive you each day. Your ‘why’ is what’s going to get you out of bed every morning and help you sleep at night when your mind is racing, your anxiety is high and you think you can’t go on.”
Due to the rainy conditions, many of the graduates retreated to the tent near the entrance of the stadium following the ceremony, including Abby Lacroix ’23. “I wish it was under better circumstances,” she said, “but what are you going to do?”
With her undergraduate degree in elementary education, Lacroix is ready to start her new job as a third grade teacher at St. Monica’s School in Methuen, Massachusetts this fall.
As the rain continued throughout the day, the College made the decision, with the support of the students, to abbreviate the final degree recognition ceremony for the School of Nursing and Health Sciences and the School of Liberal Arts. Following brief remarks by President Hopey and Fr. Sannella, the graduates received their diplomas.
Julianne Wydola M’23 headed straight to the parking lot after stepping off the stage with her diploma in her hand.
“It feels nice,” she said of receiving her graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling. “I’m now going to pursue getting my LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor).”
Jake Bencale ’23 said the gravity of graduating hasn’t hit him yet. “I’ll be coming back on Monday to start my master’s in communications,” he said. “I hope to get into radio or sports writing.”