`The generation that can change everything': BCC graduates 297

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LENOX — Friends and families of graduates clutched bouquets and programs at Berkshire Community College's 59th commencement ceremony Friday.

A cluster of smiley-face balloons swayed in the wind at the outskirts of Tanglewood's Serge Koussevitzky Music Shed.

The college awarded 223 associate degrees and 102 certificates to 297 students during the ceremony. The students ranged in age from 16 to 67, with a median age of 29, and they hailed, too, from Connecticut, New York and Vermont, as well as places farther afield, like Russia, China and Vietnam.

Graduates beamed as they walked across the stage, tassels bouncing against their ears.

Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, co-author of the Green New Deal resolution, delivered the night's keynote address.

Markey told students he plans to advance legislation allowing high school students to dually enroll in college courses for free.

And when it comes to the environment, he said "failure is not an option." The future is not in the dark of the mine but in the light of the sun, he said.

"You must be the leaders," he said, telling them to buck the gender pay gap and corruption in politics.

"You are the generation that can change everything," he said.

BCCe President Ellen Kennedy used her time at the microphone to focus the graduating students on happiness. Social media brings about unhealthy comparisons to our peers, she said, urging them to take a deep breath, let their shoulders drop and let the tension go.

She told them to take time this weekend to reflect on the people and on the qualities in themselves that got them here today.

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"Remember the happiness that you feel right now, right here," she said.

Jennifer Berne, vice president for academic affairs, said she speaks for all college staff in saying "today is a very, very good day at work."

Flowers, glitter and messages like "work hard; dream big" decorated some of the 297 mortarboards in the crowd.

"You won't be dressed like this many more times," Berne said.

Berne acknowledged salutatorian Jessica Levy, who graduated with an associate degree in biology that she'll soon put to work teaching in a high school classroom. She told Levy to wear her time at the college proudly and visibly for her soon-to-be students: "Remind yourself and them of what can come of a start at a community college."

Berne also introduced the night's valedictorian, Soncere "Starr" Williams, who leaves behind holes in many a student organization and a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.

Williams works at Berkshire County Arc, graduated with an associate degree in social work and will continue toward a bachelor's degree at Elms College in the fall.

She told her peers to have the courage to stand up for what's right, to stay passionate about whatever they choose to do, and to move forward with honesty, confidence, patience, care and humility.

"The world needs more heroes, and I charge you all to become one," she said.

Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler donned a top hat as he closed the proceedings, banging a ceremonial staff against the stage and declaring the ceremony "hereby terminated."

"God save the commonwealth of Massachusetts," he said, ushering boisterous applause.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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