Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Commencement Reunion

Patricia Flaherty's remarks

Posted on May 18, 2013


Thank you, President Crutcher. This is truly an amazing honor. Thank you to the trustees, the faculty, and honored guests; to my family, to Ricardo, to the lucky graduates and hardworking graduates of 2013, and a special thank you and shout out to my class, the Class of 1983.

Sunshine. I remember sitting in this dimple in the rain. Honestly, I must tell you that I don't remember a lot about what our commencement speaker, Barbara Walters, had to say, but I do remember the smiles on my parents' faces as they sat up there, and I want to thank you for the sunshine in the dimple this year.

I am really proud to be a Wheaton graduate. I did really well academically while I was at Wheaton, and my liberal arts education has served me well. But it was the knowledge and confidence gained as a woman at Wheaton that permitted me, no, forced me, to make a career that would allow me to put my principles into action on a daily basis.

It was in John Grady's political sociology class that three wonderfully tenacious, loud and outrageous, working-class women from Mission Hill came to speak.

They said, "Real politics is not going to a No Nukes Concert.” (This was the 1980s.) “Real politics is not working in your congressman's office answering the phone. No, real politics," they challenged, "is on the streets of Mission Hill."

Well, I took that challenge and came to Mission Hill/Roxbury Crossing, Boston, Mass., 30 years ago. My first job after college, and I never left. I thought that I would stay a year and go back to school and get my doctorate. It's just that building community and changing my little piece of the world took a lot longer than I imagined. But sometimes you win. And another important lesson learned, victory goes to those who don't give up and who don't give in and who don't go home and eat supper. Sometimes you get that doctorate, just not in the way you originally envisioned, but when and how it was supposed to be.

I am very lucky to live my passion. Not everyone gets to do that every day. What I used to do for my summer vacation, or what I would do as a volunteer, that's my job. I am not going to say it's not hard work. It's just worth it.

I am thankful to have been a part of the physical transformation of the Mission Hill neighborhood. I get to sit in the kitchens and living rooms of my neighbors and envision what should be. Then I have the privilege to be part of building that vision and making it a reality. From vacant lots and construction debris and torched cars, to homes and families and kids riding their bikes, to the reclamation of project land for our grocery store, our community center, our parks, to joining with the multicultural group of seniors crying and laughing our way through zoning commission hearings, demonstrating why our senior building should be approved.

But it has been so much more than building buildings. I have been blessed to be part of the collective process involving hundreds of my neighbors fighting for something instead of against everything, and together we have been able to realize community.

You too are armed with the set of Wheaton skills to go forward and make change in other people's lives. My wish for you, the Class of 2013, is the same as the first Wheaton woman, Eliza Baylies Wheaton. Regarding Wheaton's students she wrote: "It is my wish and hope that as they come in contact with the world, the world shall be the better and the happier for their having lived in it."

Thank you. Go forward, give back.

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