Boston’s Commencement Speakers: From the Known to the Unknown

Commencement Speakers are meant to inspire. Whether they are world renowned or locally successful, the speeches they give to graduating seniors should motivate them to do something meaningful with their degrees.  

Colleges in Boston had a range of speakers from the highly notable Margaret Marshall at Simmons College to the virtually unknown Jeff Glor at Suffolk University.

While not every speaker seemed like an exciting choice, the words of wisdom they imparted upon the new graduates of 2011 seemed to have an impact regardless of notoriety.

Recent Emmanuel graduate Raimar Martinez was unimpressed by his school’s choice of Tufts Health Plan CEO James Roosevelt Junior, in the weeks leading up to his graduation. “Personally, I don’t know who he is, so I don’t care [that he’s speaking here],” he said in an interview prior to graduation. He added that he wished the commencement speaker was someone he had actually heard of.

It seemed unlikely that Roosevelt, the grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, would inspire a group of graduates ready to embark on a quest to find something meaningful in the real world, but Martinez was pleased with the speech.

“He was good. He did a good job with the speech,” said Martinez. “[He told us that] when we go out after we graduate not to be scared to fail, because on the road to success, you will fail a couple of times.”

He said that Roosevelt’s speech was relevant to the group of graduates about to enter an uncertain job market.

Jeff Glor, anchor of the Early Show on CBS, was probably not a household name to many Suffolk University graduates, but he was an excellent choice to speak at commencement, according to Class of 2011 graduate Karl Hoffman.

“I was extremely impressed with his overall speech,” said Hoffman. “He brought a real world perspective to the graduation. I really think that he spoke directly to the class.”

Hoffman said that Glor, who graduated from Syracuse University in 1997, could better identify with students because he young and better understands “the situation college graduates are now facing” better than someone who graduated much longer ago.

Glor spoke about how he changed his major from pre-dentistry to journalism—initially a hobby that became his passion, according to Hoffman. “You may not follow the path that you expect to when you graduate, but you may end up doing what you’re supposed to,” said Hoffman, paraphrasing part of Glor’s speech.

“Take the risk and really follow what you want to do.”

Boston did however have some famous speakers, including former Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, at Simmons, an all girl school. Marshall did not disappoint, according to Simmons Class of 2011 graduate Kate McKenzie. McKenzie was already excited to hear Marshall speak before graduation.

“I think picking her was a good idea, because the whole idea [of Simmons] is to represent strong women,” she said. Marshall, the first woman Chief Justice in Massachusetts who retired in December, is most famous for presiding over the court that legalized gay marriage in the state.


“I think that’s really impressive and admirable,” said Anna DiPietro, another recent Simmons graduate, prior to Commencement. “She’s an interesting person.”

According to McKenzie, Marshall’s speech was short and concise.

“It was really good. She talked a lot about how she grew up in South Africa during apartheid. She was really interested in social justice in college. She said that we should try our best to make a difference in the world.”

McKenzie confirmed that she was indeed a good fit as Simmons’ commencement speaker. “What she was saying was that we could use our college education to go out and do something that mattered.

Although not every commencement speaker was as well-known as Marshall, those chosen to address their respective graduating classes were all successful in their fields and offered meaningful sentiments to their audiences.



Jeff Fish [TNGG Boston] I'm a senior at Suffolk University, majoring in Journalism and Political Science. I'm the Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper, The Suffolk Journal, and I did a six-month co-op at the Boston Globe. I love politics, reading, movies, TV, and anything pop culture.

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