NORTH ADAMS -- Their class president, who grew up in war-torn Chechnya, urged her classmates to "never give up."
Their commencement speaker, a native of Lebanon, told them to use their dreams as their "life-force."
With these words of inspiration ringing in their ears, more than 300 members of the Class of 2012 received diplomas on Saturday at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ 113th annual commencement exercises in the Ambler Campus Center Gymnasium.
A total of 333 students received bachelor’s degrees, while 28 received master’s degrees in education. Sixteen other students received certificates in advanced graduate studies. Almost half of the students who received bachelor’s degrees (162) come from Berkshire County municipalities.
One student danced up the ramp to receive her diploma, another flexed his muscles, a third bearhugged MCLA President Mary K. Grant. Joaquin Bernal of Pittsfield held his 3-year-old son, David’s, hand as they walked in tandem up the ramp so that dad could receive his degree in political science and public policy.
"He’s very happy," Bernal’s wife said, while filming her husband and son.
Grant congratulated the class for their efforts, noting that they had begun the school year under unusual circumstances.
"You began your final academic year at MCLA on the heels of a hurricane," Grant said, referring to Tropical Storm Irene, which hit the Berkshires in late August.
"You put your time and education to good work, and today we celebrate you."
Class president Hawa Um arova of Chelsea, who grew up in Chechnya, a republic in southern Russia, said that because of MCLA, "I have risen above all the evil that I had witnessed in my earlier years."
"Life may throw many things at you," Umarova said. "It’s absolutely important that you believe in yourself. ... Don’t let the obstacles you may encounter make your dreams not come true."
Commencement speaker Robert Rabil, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, graduated from North Adams State College, now MCLA in 1987, three years after arriving in the United States from Lebanon.
He told the graduates that the diplomas they have earned "are more than just a pass into the professional world."
"You are the new generations of leaders, of professionals," he said. "Your challenges are diverse and serious and demand more than hard work. It is here, at MCLA, that I charted my goals and learned my skills."
Rabil was one of four people who received honorary degrees from MCLA on Saturday. The others were Sandra L. Burton, the Lipps family director of dance at Williams College; attorney and philanthropist Samuel H. "Sandy" Laitman of Williamstown; and Dr. Eugene Leibowitz of Pittsfield, who has been a member of MCLA’s board of trustees since 2000.
Among the local graduates were former Pittsfield City Clerk Jody L. Phillips, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, and Pittsfield Police Department Detective Diane M. Caccamo, who received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224
On Twitter: @tonydobrow