On Tuesday night in the Heights Room of Corcoran Commons, the Woods College of Advancing Studies hosted its 2014 graduation dinner for students nearing the completion of their final semesters. Family and friends joined the graduates for the event, as well as faculty of the Woods College and members of the Boston College Alumni Association. Highlighted by Woods College alumnus and a class address from Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, following the dinner portion of the evening, the agenda started off with welcome remarks by Woods College Dean James Burns, I.V.D.
Before briefing the audience on current initiatives being pursued by the leadership of the Woods College, Rev. James P. Burns, S.J., took a moment to recognize the efforts of Rev. James Woods, S.J., who presided as dean of the Woods College for 44 years. Citing Woods as one of the more significant driving forces of the Woods College’s success and current position, he noted that the school must now look forward and not get complacent as it strives to better prepare adults amidst a competitive post-traditional education environment.
“Any of you who know him, his infectious laugh, his stature-we stand on tall and broad shoulders,” Burns said. “However, just because we have that vantage point and the advantage of such historic roots, does not mean that we can remain motionless in the ever-changing world of the post-traditional and adult learning environment.” Burns then described the steps the Woods College is taking to remain a leader in the brand of education it specializes.
“We have embarked on an ambitious redesign of the Woods College that has four key objectives,” Burns said. The initiatives include creating greater access to education through new enrollment, strengthening financial viability through more revenue and the increase of endowed funds, the development of new programs that will interact and enhance existing aspects of BC academic offerings, and the introduction of new master’s programs that specialize in preparing graduates for increasingly popular careers both in the local Boston area and nation-wide. Following this discussion, Burns showed the audience a new promotional advertisement for the Woods College, highlighting the plans he had just spoken about.
Woods then recognized the tremendous efforts of Woods College students to attend night classes amid hectic work and family lives, as well as the support their family and friends provided them to complete their degrees. He implored graduates to fully utilize their Jesuit, Catholic BC education to positively impact those around them in all of their pursuits. Citing one Woods College alumnus in particular who exemplified the successful execution of this objective, Woods called Walsh to the stage as the first annual recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus award.
Walsh began his address by thanking members of the BC and Woods College faculty. After recognizing Woods for his contributions to the school, Walsh told a story about the man who had served as dean during the years he spent taking night classes while serving as a Massachusetts state representative.
“Father Woods called me into the office one day and he wanted to see me,” Walsh said. “He looked at me and he said, ‘you know, you’re a pretty smart guy’… then he held up my transcript and there were a lot of W’s on it. He told me I needed to get my degree done.” On a more serious note, Walsh went on to say that Woods helped provide him with the inspiration to earn his undergraduate degree from the Woods College within the next three semesters.
“I know exactly how hard you’ve worked to get here,” he continued, addressing the graduates. “You’ve had to balance your studies with all kinds of responsibilities at home, at work, and other things that happen. Life happens. But you were dedicated.” Spending the bulk of his speech honoring the efforts of the graduates and their supporters, Walsh explained that his successful transition from working in the state house to being elected mayor of Boston was a testament to the empowerment and opportunity available to those who receive degrees from advancing studies programs. He argued that what makes schools such as the Woods College so powerful is that they teach students who already have a firm grasp on their interests.
“A lot of you in this room have already lived life,” he said. “You know what you want to do … the education we received in the night school is no different than the education in the day school here.” The final portion of his address echoed the earlier sentiments of Burns by reminding the graduates how significant their degrees could be to the world around them.
“You have changed your life for the better, and by doing that, you are changing the lives of your family, your community, and your society,” Walsh said. “We need to come back as often as we can, we also need to show current students and graduates that people can get a great education like we did.”
Speaking to the crowd he would have been a part of just five years earlier, Walsh stood as a reminder to the graduates of how much their efforts to enrich their education over the past few years could pay off.