Dear family, friends, esteemed guest speakers, honorees, UMass Boston faculty, staff, and fellow members of the class of 2018. Welcome to all of you.
To my classmates, congratulations on your achievements. I am honored and humbled to have been chosen to stand before you today.
I was born in Boston, in an area where the tallest buildings of the city’s skyline were in sight—the blinking lights offering comfort as I fell asleep at night. When my family moved to Waltham, the skyline of Boston continued to be visible from the front steps of our house on the hill, like the emerald city of Oz in the distance.
Frequent family outings brought us back to the city to appreciate its cultural offerings. Later, I conducted my undergraduate studies at one of the world’s finest musical institutions, situated in the Back Bay. Upon receiving my bachelor’s degree, I relocated to Europe, where I still maintain my base; however, although I have found many places in the world where I feel at home, every time I land at Logan, I know I am truly at home, here in Boston.
I’ve seen this city develop and mature over time, and a large part of that has to do with the tens of thousands of students, from hundreds of countries, who make their way here to pursue a vision of higher learning. I attribute my interaction with international students during my undergraduate years as being the catalyst to a curiosity about the world, eventually leading to relocation overseas.
I consider myself to be a life-long learner. However, throughout years of self-study, I’ve always felt something was missing. What I yearned for was a more structured method of study offered by a well-planned curriculum, as well as engagement and interaction with others, immersed in a similar quest for knowledge. It was, therefore, natural to seek toward Boston as my home and the mecca for higher learning that it is. Also, having lived abroad, it was essential that I find an institution of higher education characterized by the excellence of its academic programs, as well as the diversity of its student body. The University of Massachusetts Boston was a natural choice, and the school has lived up to and exceeded my expectations.
When I began my journey as a UMass Boston grad student, this graduation day seemed so distant and unattainable. Now that it’s here, I feel, as I’m sure many of you do, happiness, accomplishment, and perhaps a sense of relief. At the same time, my experience as a student at UMass Boston has been so exponentially rewarding that I’m ambivalent about it coming to an end. Somehow, in some way, shape or form, I hope that it doesn’t, and that the classroom relationships, which over time have become meaningful personal relationships, will allow the flame of mutual growth and development to continue burning throughout a lifetime. For this unexpected gift of friendship, I owe a debt of gratitude to my brilliant classmates, instructors, and professors from the Critical and Creative Thinking program at the College of Advancing and Professional Studies.
I am, by the most straightforward description of my vocation, a musician, an artist. And in this capacity, I’ve had the privilege of performing in front of audiences across five of the seven continents. While at UMass Boston, the hybrid course offerings, which combine students on-campus with those of us from a distance, have allowed me to continue my education as I traveled the world. I’ve been able to complete the requirements for a Master of Arts degree while attending class sessions, from locations in Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Madagascar—along with classmates located across the USA, in Europe, Asia, and Australia.
These travels have provided abundant opportunity for personal growth, and a wealth of experience from the bizarre to the beautiful; learning from world cultures beyond the Western-oriented, while gaining an awareness of the power of music, its ability to foster change beyond the realm of music, and the contributions I can make as a teacher.
I’ve found, or perhaps lost, myself in cultures where I wasn’t able to speak the language or read the signs: both those which provide instruction regarding the route to my destination, as well as the signs of everyday human interaction. In these situations, I’ve discovered that words suddenly become ineffectual, and that actions and the manner in which we carry ourselves are of vital importance. In this tension between the ambiguity of the unfamiliar, and the sense of a mutual, deeply-felt human connection on a musical level, I’ve often wondered if there might be a universal “way of being.” A way of being that allows us to see, accept, and embrace one another, for who we are as human beings. These musings have led me to contemplate the thought that there comes a moment in life - and quite possibly, there are several such moments - when we have to cease rehearsing for life, step into character, and be that person we’re going to be.
This concept of “the person we’re going to be,” I believe, requires that we have a vision or ideal regarding our character, who we are, our relationship with those to whom we are connected, and what we wish to contribute during our time on Earth. Perhaps today is a fitting occasion to reflect upon how we, each one of us, might step into character, from this day forward, and be that person we are closer to becoming by virtue of the academic achievements that have brought us here today. My capstone synthesis for the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program has revolved around designing what I call a social architecture for visualizing and realizing one’s highest, creative aspirations, through incorporating Vision and its Values, Purpose, and Intent, as a guide for daily action. This work is centered around the premise that we as humans are inherently creative, and that every act involving a person, or people, in an environment, carrying out deeds which impact that environment and those in it, are creative acts. Regardless of what we do in life, or what our vocations may be, these creative acts, perhaps grounded in a “way of being” and characterized by the choices we make, are something that I believe we can approach artfully. By artfully, I mean, that we persistently invest the best of ourselves and what we have to offer, and perhaps, our best Self, in an endeavor, through personal leadership, to consciously form our lives, and help others to consciously and self-determinately form their lives, in a manner which contributes the highest possible value to the social space, community, and society that we share.
And though it is often said, that small actions are the ones that change the world; I’m thinking that perhaps it is small actions guided by our highest, most authentic aspirations, which change the world in the most profound ways.
This creative process of people, who have embarked upon a journey within a particular time and place, acting toward the achievement of a specific outcome, is analogous to what all of us have lived, through our graduate study experience at UMass Boston. The process is circular, in that although today represents an end, an outcome, a goal, the destination of a journey; perhaps, more importantly, it represents the beginning of a new journey.
And on this new journey, were we to make a pact, all of us assembled in this venue today, I am curious as to the effect that all of our collective knowledge, skill, Purpose, Values, and Intent – through fields as diverse as health, science, education, public policy, and the arts, would, or will, have on the world we encounter beyond the classroom. There is much to do out there, and I am confident that we who are gathered in this room today, will be counted amongst those who bring about much needed beneficial outcomes in the communities and societies of the future.
I thank you once again for the opportunity to deliver this graduate commencement address; it is indeed an honor that I shall never forget. UMass Boston Graduate Class of 2018, congratulations to all of you. May the best of what you have to offer empower you to Be, Create, and artfully Lead the change you wish to see.
Note: This is an edited version of Bobby Ricketts’ remarks as prepared for delivery.