PITTSFIELD — Throughout Saturday's event honoring African-American graduates from Berkshire County, the message was clear: "You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. But don't forget to give back to your community."

A total of 40 graduates from county high schools were feted by the Women of Color Giving Circle on Saturday afternoon at Berkshire Community College. They were also presented with stipends and small gifts to commemorate their efforts.

The ceremony featured an array of speakers who congratulated the graduates and urged them to make their mark.

"You stood on the shoulders of giants to get where you are," said the main speaker, Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes, "And remember that someday, someone will be standing on your shoulders."

Haynes, a 1999 Williams College graduate and presently the vice president of the Williams College Office of Diversity and Equity, told the students that they had already faced significant challenges getting to where they were on Saturday. But she reminded the graduates that "what you went through is not new. Those who came before you were dealing with these hurdles on a daily basis."

Haynes, like many of the other speakers, urged the students to repay their community.

"When I came home from college, I taught elementary school," she said. "I felt I needed to give back.".

"You can be an instrument for change," said Dennis Powell, president of the county chapter of the NAACP. Berkshire County's is one of 2,200 chapters across the country, he said.

"Take the time to learn about your history, who you are and where you came from," he said. "You can be an instrument for change. Become an activist."

Mayor Linda Tyer, urged the graduates to "Be curious. Whatever you do, do it well. And don't be afraid to be flexible. Be open to opportunities that may be unexpected. Remember, everything happens for a reason."

"None of the adults here," said Pittsfield Superintendent of Schools Jason "Jake" McCandless, "can wait to see what you accomplish."

In addition to the aforementioned speakers, there were spoken word performances by Ayala Walker, a student at Miss Hall's School, and activist and entrepreneur Terance "Ruxspin" Moore "It's up to you guys," said Moore, "to be an example to those who come after you."

The invocation was given by Akilah Edgarton, pastor of the New Generation Global Ministry. Later, Tony Walker led the 60 or so visitors in "Lift Every Voice," often referred to as the "Black National Anthem."

Reach staff reporter Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.