CHICOPEE — The 486-student Elms College class of 2016 received diplomas at the college’s 85th commencement exercises on May 21 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The class of 2016 includes 400 undergraduates — 170 bachelor of arts degrees, 229 bachelor of science degrees, and one associate’s degree — as well as 81 master’s degrees and five certificates of advanced graduate study.
The commencement address was delivered by Dr. James O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, which he founded in 1985 to provide or ensure access to the highest-quality healthcare for homeless men, women, and children in the Greater Boston area. The nonprofit program now serves more than 13,000 people each year in two hospital-based clinics (Boston Medical Center and Mass General Hospital), and in more than 60 shelters and outreach sites in Boston. It is the largest and most comprehensive healthcare program for the homeless currently funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
O’Connell’s lifelong dedication to helping the homeless fits perfectly with Elms College’s commitment to social justice. As commencement speaker, he delivered an inspirational message to the class of 2016, reminding the graduates of their responsibility to create a better world. O’Connell also received an honorary degree.
“The burden of human suffering out there is huge,” he said. “And I would say if you do nothing else with your lives, find ways that you can ease that burden, whatever that will be.”
He exhorted the graduates to think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the beloved community. “You have been imbued with the principles of that beloved community, which are excellence, justice, and faith — those are exactly the things that Martin Luther King Jr. asked for,” O’Connell said. “And in that community, which I hope you will now go try to create, what you want is the vision of everyone — the lost and the least among us — to be invited in and treated with dignity, and offered hope and opportunity.”