Photo Gallery | 2014 Berkshire Community College Commencement


LENOX -- U.S. Rep. and community college alumnus Richard E. Neal enjoined 373 graduating Berkshire Community College students to tirelessly seek information and always hear others' opinions during the school's commencement ceremony at Tanglewood on Friday.

"There is no substitute for applying a magnifying glass to the details of very complex problems," the 65-year-old Holyoke Community College graduate said. "As [Thomas Jefferson] duly noted, ‘A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free.' "

Classifying the American system as a representative democracy based upon ideas and exchange of thought, developed through argument and compromise, Neal cautioned against an "instantaneous news cycle" abetted by social media, "where shock value, outrage and the shout-down are signs of the times."

"Sarcasm and spitefulness are a recipe for stalemate," he said. "All too often opinion is substituted for fact. And social media has truncated substantive conversation across this nation."

The congressman riffed humorously on what might have become of the Gettysburg Address in the age of Twitter, and recommended the students allow for "time and clarity of thought" and the admittance of new information.

Among other ideas, Neal floated a thought of his own concerning the nation's pressing need for student loan reform.

He highlighted the $100 fee he paid per semester at Holyoke -- and how even still he didn't know where that money would come from.

"Congress and the president need to address the basic issue of what to do about the one trillion dollars in student debt that exists in America today and is holding back the national economy," Neal said.

The burden limits opportunity and entrepreneurship, Neal said, but has caused enrollment in state and community college's like BCC to "soar" by twofold -- to 36 percent of the total population -- since the 1960s. He praised these colleges for boasting about how many students they admit annually, as opposed to others who do the opposite.

Also at the commencement, state Sen. Benjamin Downing and BCC class of 2014 valedictorian Shelby S. Meyers hit upon the similar theme of failure and fear of it.

"There will be moments of great possibility but also trepidation and fear," Downing said. "Sometimes when we encounter fear we only see the negative. We see what could go wrong and the possibility of failure. Only by taking big risks will you realize your potential to achieve and help change the community we live in."

An environmental science major who overcame significant health issues to graduate, Meyers said she didn't know the key to success but did know its foil.

"The key to failure is not trying," the 21-year-old said. "You will undoubtedly miss every chance you don't take."

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier spoke at the commencement as well, and three BCC staff members received professor emeritus recognition: Susan H. Pinsker, Deborah T. Rustay and Charles E. Weinstein.

To reach Phil Demers:
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