BOSTON, May 1, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Bentley University celebrated commencement for the Class of 2021 at Boston's Fenway Park on Saturday, the first ever college graduation held at the historic ballpark. A second ceremony to celebrate the Class of 2020, whose commencement was held virtually last year, was held later in the day.
Former Bentley President Gloria Cordes Larson delivered the commencement address, encouraging graduates to "make the world a better place," praising the students for the resilience in enduring the worst pandemic in a century that had made them "stronger and more powerful than you will ever imagine."
"This past year has forever changed our world," Larson told the graduates. "We are lesser as a nation and lesser as a global community. We've experienced an untold loss of human life; felt economic and financial hardship; experienced social unrest and a needed reckoning around race and social justice; and saw a deepening political and social divide at home and abroad. But here today, in spite of or perhaps because of these challenges, we stand stronger. Class of 2021, you are stronger."
It was a memorable day as Larson stood on the home team's dugout to deliver her remarks to students and their families in the famous red Fenway Park seats, four years after she had first welcomed many of the same students to the Bentley campus – the final class she welcomed to the university before retiring in 2018. The stadium's Jumbotron, which normally shows replays of home runs and strikeouts, instead played videos of professors congratulating the graduates. The famous scoreboard in left field had been changed by hand to read, "CONGRATS BENTLEY."
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Bentley arranged to hold the in-person ceremony at Fenway Park to celebrate the classes of 2020 and 2021 with their families in a safe setting that followed Massachusetts and City of Boston guidelines. Bentley was the first university to hold commencement at Fenway, followed by Northeastern, Suffolk, Emerson and dozens of high schools in the coming weeks.
Larson, a prominent business leader, public policy expert and lawyer, was a widely quoted champion for millennials and Gen Z during her 11-year Bentley presidency. She emphasized that strong belief in the younger generation in her remarks to the graduates on Saturday.
"You will go out and make the world a better place," she said. "You will exemplify the resilience this world needs. You will be the positive business leaders that the world needs to thrive in the years ahead. You will face challenges and overcome them. And you will never forget that you are not alone in this journey. You are traveling this path together. And for that reason, you are stronger and more powerful than you will ever imagine."
Larson received an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree.
The student speakers at the 2021 ceremony included Courtney Woronka '21, president of the senior class, and Suchithra Vengalil, a member of the Graduate Student Association.
"In a time where we have lost so much, it can be hard to appreciate what we have," Woronka said. "We came back for our final year, and while it seemed literally more distant than ever, we actually came together closer than ever before and cemented our class's legacy at Bentley.
"As I have reflected with seniors at the end of this year, the overwhelming sentiment is this: We are so proud to have navigated through every obstacle and unexpected challenge while sustaining the joy of our senior year in new ways," she said. "We never gave up, and I will always be proud to be a part of this class."
Vengalil shared her story of working toward her master's degree while working full time, caring for a toddler, helping her family through a financial crisis, and becoming empowered after leaving an abusive marriage.
"This may be Bentley's first commencement ceremony, where, more than the robe and the regalia, we made sure we were wearing a mask," Vengalil said. "But many of us hide behind a mask of a different kind, one that is designed to hide our issues, our struggles and our real feelings. Today, I want to encourage my fellow Falcons to not hide behind that mask. Don't hold back on being your true self."
Class of 2020 Celebration
Later in the day, a separate ceremony was held to celebrate the Class of 2020, whose commencement was held virtually last year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Students and their families entered Fenway Park to reunite as a class and hear speeches from former President Larson as well as class representatives Jinny Choi '20 and Melissa Renschler '12, PhD '20.
"That state of 'being resilient' isn't a trophy — rather a mosaic of smaller badges won after each challenge along the way," said Choi, who now works as a diversity, equity and inclusion project manager at IBIS Consulting Group. "College is a time of growth and learning, and we've all faced such unique challenges to get to where we are today. Being in this moment, we forget that graduation is not just one day, but a journey."
Renschler, an assistant professor of accounting at Suffolk University, challenged the Class of 2020 to keep looking forward and recognizing their true potential. "What skill sets, what empathy can you build that will guide your decision-making?" she asked. "I challenge you to use this time of reflection to carve out those steps toward who you would best like to become. The choices that you navigate right now will indelibly shape your future."
About the Bentley University Class of 2021
The Class of 2021 includes 941 undergraduate students representing 32 states and territories and 36 countries. The degrees include 928 Bachelor of Science degrees, 11 Bachelor of Arts degrees and two Bachelor of Business Administration degrees. The class also includes 437 graduate students representing 24 states and territories and 23 countries. They include 311 Master of Science degrees, 113 Master of Business Administration degrees, one doctoral degree and 12 certificates.
About the Bentley University Class of 2020
The Class of 2020 included 1,067 undergraduate students representing 33 states and territories and 34 countries. The degrees awarded included 1,040 Bachelor of Science degrees, 22 Bachelor of Arts degrees and five Bachelor of Business Administration degrees. The class also included 515 graduate students representing 22 states and territories and 21 countries, including 378 Master of Science degrees, 124 Master of Business Administration degrees, six doctoral degrees and seven certificates.
About Gloria Cordes Larson
Gloria Cordes Larson is a respected lawyer, public policy expert, Boston business leader and former university president. She serves as a director for two public companies, Unum Group and Boston Private, and for tech start-up Christie Campus Health. Larson also serves as the president of the Massachusetts Conference for Women, on the board of reacHIRE, and on the board of several other national and regional nonprofit organizations. In 2011, Larson launched the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University, which was later named in her honor. While at Bentley, Larson authored the book "PreparedU: How Innovative Colleges Prepare Students for Success." Larson served as president in residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education from 2018 to 2019. She was named to the Power 50 by the Boston Business Journal and Boston Magazine; featured in the Boston Globe Magazine's Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts; and awarded the 2018 Ellen M. Zane award for Visionary Leadership from Tufts Medical Center. She also received a Woman of the Year award from the Wentworth Institute of Technology and was named one of the University of Virginia School of Law's 100 Change Agents.
Bentley University is more than just one of the nation's top business schools. It is a lifelong-learning community that creates successful leaders who make business a force for positive change. With a combination of business and the arts and sciences and a flexible, personalized approach to education, Bentley provides students with critical thinking and practical skills that prepare them to lead successful, rewarding careers. Founded in 1917, the university enrolls 4,200 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate and PhD students and is set on 163 acres in Waltham, Massachusetts, 10 miles west of Boston. For more information, visit bentley.edu.