Merrimack College Celebrates Class of 2024

Graduating seniors and graduate students marked the end of their academic journeys at Merrimack during school-based ceremonies held on May 16 and 17.
Merrimack College Commencement 2024 Lawler Arena

For most of the students in Merrimack College’s Class of 2024, the 74th Commencement Exercises held in Lawler Arena on Thursday, May 16, and Friday, May 17, were their first formal graduation ceremony since middle school, due to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So it was no surprise the energy was high, the cheers were loud and the joy was infectious as an estimated 15,000 people descended on campus over two days to honor the graduating seniors and graduate students for their academic achievements.

“You endured and persevered, and your reward is more than a college degree,” Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost John “Sean” Condon, Ph.D., said in his remarks to graduates. “You learned resiliency. You practiced empathy. And you displayed courage.”

This year’s Commencement had five school-based ceremonies, each featuring a distinguished speaker and a video student address from Student Government Association President Maxwell Beland ’24 and Graduate Student Senate President Lara Guvelioglu ’22, M’24. 

“If Merrimack has taught us anything… (it’s to) jump, run, throw yourself into the unknown,” Beland said in the video message. “While it may seem scary and boundless, the opportunities it provides are far too impactful and important to pass up.”

Here are just some of the highlights from the five Commencement ceremonies.

 

School of Nursing and Health Sciences

The School of Nursing and Health Sciences kicked off the festivities Thursday afternoon. 

Leo Desrochers ’24 received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science, and his parents shared how excited they were to see him cross the stage and hear his name called. 

“With COVID, Leo never really had a full graduation,” his mother Peg, said. “It’s really fun to see him in his cap and gown.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in business management last year from Merrimack, Kevin Carroll ’23 M’24 said receiving his master’s degree in health and wellness management was a full-circle moment.

“I hope for the best for my peers with all their future endeavors,” he said. “Merrimack has set us up for success so I know they’ll succeed.” 

Francis Kenneally, president and CEO of the Merrimack Valley YMCA, gave the ceremony’s keynote address. 

“I ask you to be the spark that ignites the flame of positive change and innovation,” he told the graduates. “Be the spark that ignites the flame of collaboration in building community. Be the spark that ignites the flame of inspiration in the lives of others.”

John Petillo, president of Sacred Heart University, received an honorary doctorate in public health.

 

School of Arts and Sciences

Before the School of Arts and Sciences commencement started on Friday, Cori Duda sat eagerly waiting for her son, Alex Conte ’24, to get his bachelor’s degree in communication and media with a minor in marketing. She and the rest of the extended Conte clan were holding cardboard cutouts of Alex’s face. 

“We’re so proud of our Alex,” she said. “He’s such a blessing. He worked really hard at Merrimack and he really deserves this day.”

Backstage in Hammel Court, Allyson Qualley ’24, and Mitch Root ’23 M’24 were chatting while waiting to line up for the procession.

“I’m ecstatic,” Qualley, a biology major and women’s ice hockey player, said. “It’s great to see four years of hard work come together.”

“This is what every kid dreams of,” Root said prior to receiving his master’s in communications. “Five years at Merrimack – I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

During the ceremony, distinguished speaker Dave McGillivray ’76, H’12, stressed the importance of hope.

“Dreaming big, setting realistic goals and not limits, having the guts to commit to them, doing the work to earn the right to go after them and succeeding at them makes you an accomplisher,” he said. “There is no greater reward in life than the self-satisfaction of knowing that you have, indeed, accomplished what you committed to do.”

Alumni William ’66 and Nancy Marsden ’66, owner of DeMoulin Brothers, both received an honorary doctorate in fine arts.

 

School of Engineering and Computational Sciences 

Distinguished speaker Joshua Dion ’03, vice president of engineering at RightHand Robotics shared with graduates that the four keys to success are embracing change, never settling, viewing adversity as an opportunity and never going alone.

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the enormity of (life’s) challenges,” he stated. “Yet amidst the turbulence, there lies an opportunity for unity and progress…The challenges we face are not insurmountable if we approach them with empathy, understanding and a shared commitment for building a better future for all.”

John Russo ’24 identified with Dion’s speech as he said there were ups and downs while working for his bachelor’s in civil engineering.

“There were a lot of good moments though,” he followed up. “I loved my classes and my professors. Later this month, I’ll be working as a field engineer for Skanska USA in Waltham.”

Isaac Hodgains M’24 said he traveled from Chattanooga, Tenn. to receive his master’s in data science, which he earned through online courses. 

“This is my first time stepping on campus,” he said. “What I’ve seen of it is nice.” 

 

Girard School of Business

Meghan Leporati M’24, Kristen Tracey M’24 and Mary Ashleigh Faletra M’24 all earned their master’s degrees in management either partially or completely online. 

“We were used to (working online) from COVID,” Tracey said. “The master’s program was great because we worked with a lot more real-world applications than we did during our undergrad.” 

While watching the ceremony, Janele Blanchard said she couldn’t believe her youngest child, Jack Blanchard ’24, was finally graduating college.

“It’s all a bit surreal and bittersweet,” she explained. “He’s receiving his bachelor’s in accounting and finance. Andersen Tax hired him after he completed an internship with them.”

On stage, distinguished speaker Richard Gallant H’15, P’24 spoke on the importance of passion.

“Hard work is the equalizer,” he said. “If you want to be successful you have to be passionate about what you want to do and go all in.”

Christine ’75 and James Zampell ’75 were awarded honorary degrees in business and commerce.

 

Winston School of Education and Social Policy 

Michelle Prolux said her daughter, Candace Proulx M’24, has been working as a school guidance counselor in Methuen, Mass. while pursuing her master’s degree in education.

“She was working full time and taking classes at night,” she said. “She’s such a hard worker, and she’s only 24. We’re all so proud of her.” 

Sean and Maura Lally said their daughter, Ciara Lally ’23 M’24, had an incredible five years at Merrimack. 

“Her overall educational experience, the communication she had with faculty, was phenomenal,” said Maura. “She’s also made some lifelong friends here.”

Distinguished speaker and honorary degree recipient Erika Giampietro H’24, founding executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance for Early College, outlined how choices and luck contribute to success. 

“Choose wisely who you keep your time with, choose to work hard, choose to embrace challenges,” she said. “Here’s the thing about luck – it’s out of your control. Instead of focusing on your own luck, be someone else’s luck. Be the good luck that affects someone’s life that they couldn’t control themselves.”

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