Westfield State University Celebrates Graduates at Annual Commencement Ceremonies

May 22, 2024
Commencement 2024. Students, faculty, and families are packed in the MassMutual Center in Springfield, with a screen overhead to show students getting their diplomas.

2024 Commencement.

On May 17, Westfield State University held its annual Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement ceremonies at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, celebrating the institution's 185th year of academic excellence, professional achievements, and civic engagement. Students were honored both for their personal dedication and embodiment of the University's ideals, marking the beginning of their post-graduate journeys.

The Undergraduate Commencement, held at 12 p.m., featured Mary Louise McDonald, President of Ireland’s Sinn Féin party and leader of Teachta Dála for Dublin Central, as the keynote speaker. McDonald, who has an academic background in English literature, European integration studies, and human resource management from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Limerick, and Dublin City University, shared her insights and encouragement with the graduates.

At the ceremony, Dr. Catherine B. Shannon, Emerita Professor of History, was awarded the President’s Medal of Achievement for her contributions to the University, including the development of the Irish American Studies Program and the Honors Program. "As Westfield State University enters its 185th year of service to our region and the Commonwealth, Dr. Shannon’s many accomplishments at the University and beyond deserve attention and appreciation,” Dr. Linda Thompson, President of Westfield State, said.

President Thompson and Dr. Catherine B. Shannon. President Thompson wears a blue robe, with Shannon wearing a black robe. They're smiling at the camera as Dr. Shannon is awarded the President’s Medal of Achievement for her contributions to the University.
Dr. Catherine B. Shannon and President Thompson.

Nicholas Smith, President of the Student Government Association, reflected on the graduates' academic and emotional journeys, calling their collegiate experience a whirlwind. “We have conquered exhilarating victories, learned from inspiring professors, and forged life-long friendships. As we close this chapter, let’s carry forward the wisdom, resilience, unwavering support, and everything else we have gained at Westfield State University. Let’s face the unknown with bravery, rejoice in each other's success, and always remember our strong foundation that we built within these walls as Owls.”

President Thompson also extended her congratulations, expressing how the students have inspired her both professionally and personally as head of the University. “I want to let you know how honored I am for the privilege of being able to get to know many of you personally,” she said. “These connections make my job meaningful and purposeful, and provide a sense of inspiration that encourages me to do the best job I possibly can. I want to thank and recognize our esteemed faculty, staff, and librarians. Your counsel to our students creates partnerships of learning and are beyond amazing. I hope when our students look back on this experience, they will recall many things that provide inspiration. I want to thank you for providing me the opportunity to get to know you all. I congratulate you on all your achievements.”

Class President Kaitlyn Egan began her remarks by welcoming families and friends before emphasizing the perseverance the class demonstrated during their college years, particularly through the challenges of the global pandemic. “Despite the irrefutable loss and frustration we all collectively experienced transitioning to college in the middle of a global pandemic, we have gained a kind of perseverance that cannot be taught in a classroom,” she said. “I have so much confidence in the success of this class, who have been challenged and come back from those challenges even more determined to succeed.”

Egan continued by highlighting the diverse accomplishments of her classmates, recognizing motivated and determined future professionals of all varieties. “Remember the immense influence we can have on our loved ones and complete strangers too. Do not shy away from how much power your words and actions hold, but be conscious of it, and use it to make a real difference in the lives that you touch, no matter how small it may seem.”

Keynote speaker Mary Louise McDonald additionally praised the graduates for their perseverance and encouraged them to implement change in their communities and worldwide. “You made it,” she said. “You all climbed the mountain in your own way and today, you proudly plant your own flag on the summit of success. All of the sacrifices, hours in the library, the late-night assignment deadlines, the exams… all of the moments where you doubted your path but still found the determination to believe in yourself and carry on, it has all led you here to this incredible point of success. It was all worth it. Never underestimate your achievements because this life will have lots of twists and turns. But nobody will ever take this away from you because you’ve earned it.”

Mary Louise McDonald, President of Ireland’s Sinn Féin party and leader of Teachta Dála for Dublin Central speaking at the 2024 Commencement Ceremony. She wears a black robe and cap and is at a podium.
Mary Louise McDonald, President of Ireland’s Sinn Féin party and leader of Teachta Dála for Dublin Central.

She went on to describe success as a team-sport, from which “nothing great is ever accomplished alone”, as well as called the new graduates to break down barriers and implement change both in their communities and world-wide. “This is a moment for you to reflect on how far you’ve come,” she added. “A time to celebrate with your friends and family. And I come from Ireland and ask you to change the world. That’s a lot to put on your shoulders, but here’s the thing, personal progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We are all connected to each other. We share the same world. We are traveling to the same future. You have time to make the years count, to make a real difference. Please choose to do so. Go Owls!”

Dr. Nichole Wofford, the 2023 Nevins Award Winner and Assistant Professor of Social Work, spoke at the Graduate Commencement Ceremony, reflecting on her own experiences and the “sacrifices” it took for her and the graduating students to get where they are today. Dr. Wofford also recounted being hired at the University only for lockdowns to be initiated six weeks into the semester, affecting not only her own mental health but that of her students as well.

“Despite a multitude of joyous life events as well as well as setbacks, I have witnessed and seen the sacrifices of the students who dedicated their lives, their time, their hearts and their compassion to showing up for other people on a daily basis,” she said. “Sometimes doing so, even when they are struggling to show up for themselves. I honor all of you and these challenges as well as this achievement.”

Dr. Wofford continued to ask the graduates to reflect on questions such as, “What social justice causes are you living for? What sparks a sense of purpose in your life? What brings awe into your life? Who and what inspires you to be your best self? Who’re the people who are looking to you as role models? What sparks curiosity about yourself and others and the world around you? What opens your heart?”

The ceremonies celebrated the achievements of Westfield State University’s graduates, honoring their past efforts and looking forward to their future successes. “The challenges you’ve been through to get here have been worth it,” Dr. Wofford concluded. “What you can learn from them will let other people know that even with struggle and challenge, you too can still make it.”