‘There Are Battles to Join—and a Future to Build’
The Honorable Martin J. Walsh, executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association and former US labor secretary and Boston mayor, encouraged graduates of the Suffolk University College of Arts & Sciences not to let obstacles derail their plans as they prepare for the challenges ahead.
“No matter how uncertain the world is right now, or your life is right now, don’t limit yourself in what comes next. Go for that next dream, and get ready to dream even bigger,” said Walsh in his keynote speech at the Class of 2023 ceremony on Sunday, May 21.
Walsh received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree during Suffolk’s celebration of the Class of 2023 at Boston’s Leader Bank Pavilion.
‘As a Suffolk graduate, you have a special opportunity to make a difference in the world’
Addressing the Class of 2023, Walsh—who briefly enrolled at Suffolk as a young man—opened by quipping, “It only took me 33 years to get a degree from Suffolk University.”
Walsh recounted his own nontraditional path to success strewn with many obstacles—including battling childhood cancer, dropping out of college, and struggling with alcohol. He recalled the people who inspired him each time he thought about giving up, and gave him hope to move forward. “And my dreams didn’t disappear in the face of hard times—they only got bigger,” said Walsh.
He acknowledged that the graduates’ college experience was one marked by daunting challenges, including the myriad impacts of the pandemic.
Walsh served as mayor of Boston when COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, as most of those receiving their undergraduate degrees were still adjusting to their first year on campus. He recalled the process of shutting down the city, building a field hospital, and adapting to ensure residents’ needs were met. He praised Suffolk University for its integral role in protecting the city’s most vulnerable by “turning one of their dorms over to the city of Boston to allow us to house homeless people, who had no one to take care of them, so they could have social distancing and be safe.”
He lauded the Class of 2023 for their perseverance and encouraged them to use the relationships they forged during those tough times to make a better future.
“Cherish those shared moments,” said Walsh. “Stay in touch with each other. And build compassionate, connected communities wherever you go.”
Walsh implored the graduates to dream big, even when things seem difficult and uncertain.
Speaking of the many Suffolk alumni he has known personally, Walsh said that “the graduates of this university go on to do great things. There are leaders in the city right now and across America and around the world that are Suffolk grads,” he said, and that “whatever field they are in, they share an uncommon commitment to public good. They share an ability to work together, to get things done, and make real change.”
“It’s still an uncertain time to be leaving college. But it’s also a time of incredible opportunity. There are battles to join—and a future to build,” said Walsh.
‘A powerful force for good’
Suffolk University President Marisa J. Kelly praised the Class of 2023 for their “exceptional persistence, flexibility, and adaptability in the face of unforeseeable disruption to [their] traditional academic experience.”
Noting that the many of the graduates’ time at Suffolk began just before the pandemic brought immense upheaval to everyday life, Kelly commended their self-advocacy skills, perseverance, and focus on their own and others’ mental and emotional wellbeing over the last four years. She also highlighted the work the Class of 2023 has done to better their communities.
Kelly detailed the many ways graduates helped those in need, contributing thousands of volunteer hours to address issues such as food insecurity, affordable housing, reproductive rights, racial injustice, environmental sustainability, and kindergarten readiness in under-resourced areas.
Being able to rise to meet the shifting challenges of the pandemic, while still helping others, has prepared the Class of 2023 well for life beyond campus. “You are more than ready. You are Suffolk ready, and you are a powerful force for good,” said Kelly.
‘Remember your story and be yourself loudly’
College of Arts & Sciences student Commencement Speaker Lindsay Dieudonne —an honors student and McNair Scholar who received an undergraduate degree in political science with a minor in Black Studies—reflected on the Class of 2023’s shared experiences, growth, and resilience.
“You’ve learned how to advocate for yourself,” said Dieudonne. “You’ve learned that if you ask, you will receive. You’ve learned that there is no door that has been opened for you that any person can shut.”
Dieudonne, who participated in many campus organizations and activities and served as president of the Black Student Union, praised the power of the Suffolk community to support each other.
“Every step of the way, there was someone there to comfort us through that time: whether it be friend or faculty and staff member. That is the beauty of Suffolk. No matter how many struggles we may face, interpersonal or institutional, reaching out to the right person will alleviate the situation,” said Dieudonne.
As she closed her speech, Dieudonne encouraged her fellow graduates to use the voices they developed during their time at Suffolk. “Remember your story and be yourself loudly,” she said. “You have the power to change institutions, redirect history, and call down principalities through the voice that you were given alone.”
“Make your way into the world with everything you’ve learned and all of the wisdom you’ve gained, entering every single place a little brighter and leaving it a little better,” said Dieudonne.
About The Honorable Martin J. Walsh
Martin J. Walsh, former Boston mayor and US labor secretary, is the newly appointed executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
Throughout his career in both labor and government, Walsh has dedicated himself to advancing an economy that works for all. A Dorchester native, Walsh joined the Laborers Local 223 at age 21 and served as the union’s president from 1997 to 2013. He also led the Greater Boston Building Trades Council, and in 1997 was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, serving eight terms.
In 2013, Walsh was elected mayor of Boston. During his seven years in office, he led the creation of close to 140,000 jobs and helped secure a statewide $15/hour minimum wage, paid sick leave, and paid parental leave. He established universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten and free community college for low-income graduates of all Boston schools, and oversaw the city’s initial response to the COVID pandemic.
In January 2021, President-elect Joe Biden nominated Walsh to serve as US labor secretary, making him the first former union official to serve in that role in more than four decades. Under his leadership, the Labor Department worked to reshape workplace law and regulations. In 2023, Walsh was appointed the executive director of the NHLPA, leveraging his years of labor experience to advocate on behalf of National Hockey League players.
Walsh received his BA from Boston College.
The College of Arts & Sciences Class of 2023 is made up of 693 new alumni, with 574 undergraduate and 119 graduate degrees awarded.
Overall, during three Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 21, Suffolk University will confer a total of 1,969 undergraduate and advanced degrees, to graduates from 37 states and the US Virgin Islands, and from 74 different countries. Twenty-nine percent of Suffolk’s 944 undergraduate degree recipients are first-generation college students.