Clemente Grads Speak for the Humanities and for Themselves

In late May and early June, the three Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities sponsored Bard College Clemente Classes in Massachusetts held their graduation ceremonies. The classes at Youth Development Gang, Inc. in Worcester and Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester completed their first years; the program at The Care Center in Holyoke completed its third year. The Worcester graduation took place on May 30th in the courtyard of the Worcester Art Museum. The Renaissance Revival music room of Wistariahurst, a nineteenth-century mansion that is now a museum, was the setting for the Holyoke graduation on June 10th. Two days later, the Dorchester graduation was held at the Codman Square Health Center’s Technology Center. Each event blended jubilation and solemnity, as family members and friends, teachers and supporters of the Clemente Course applauded the graduates and joined them in celebration of their achievement. Below are excerpts from the speeches given by the graduates selected to speak for their classes.

Antoinette PennAntoinette Penn, Worcester: [During the Clemente Course] I was able to take apart the brilliant mind of Socrates, to interpret a hundred poems of love, to historically and correctly insert every American immigrant group into a time and space, to dismantle the canon and put it back together again. I see myself and my fellow graduates as valuable parts of our community, the chosen. May God bless us and continue to give us the strength and the mentality of achievers that refuse to stop reaching for the stars.

Sean M. HarrisSean M. Harris, Worcester: To my classmates: We’ve gone through a lot together. We’ve lost a few along the way, but we made it. You should all be very proud of the job you have done. . . . We were trailblazers. We set a standard of excellence that all who come after are going to have to meet. No matter what happens now, we can always say we did it first. We all have an opportunity to be successful at whatever we choose to do, and I’m sure we will.

Jenny Whitley Jenny Whitley, Holyoke: I didn’t want to be a wife who stayed at home, cooked, cleaned, took care of the kids, and moved to every command the man wanted, like my mom did. I wanted so badly to change my culture. If that was what was expected of me, I didn’t want it, thinking it was a cultural thing. Well, silly me. Almost every culture was like that; [breaking out of the pattern] was an individual choice. At first I didn’t mind staying home, doing all of the above, but soon did I get bored and ready to move on to something more challenging and different. To my surprise, I have met more challenges than I ever imagined and have accomplished them all differently.

Pamela Ferguson Pamela Ferguson, Boston: We found our professors to be patient, stimulating, thought provoking, and at times quite humorous, and we students responded accordingly. We questioned their statements, gave our opinions, laughed at their jokes, got sad, got mad, and for the most part, always came back for more. . . . .We students now have Picasso, Sophocles, Epictetus, Augustine, Dante, Jane Addams, and John Brown as part of our cognitive set. . . . I intend to use this knowledge that was so graciously and generously bestowed upon me as Langston Hughes’ “crystal stair,” and climb to the next level.

Nadine Jones-Ruffin Nadine Jones-Ruffin, Boston: From Sappho to Picasso, we fell in and out of love. We debated Douglass and John Brown. We went to the plantation and the Indian reservation, and we met Socrates on the way. He asked us if the unexamined life is worth living. . . . Moral philosophy has been a validation to my own discourses . . .

Marianne Holden Marianne Holden, Holyoke:
For those of you that were not there, let me tell you, you missed a lot. We all had something of value to add to each and every subject and more times than not, we brought out the best in ourselves and each other . . .Yes, we continued to struggle over the months, but it was as if we all had something to prove–something to prove to someone or something, but most importantly, we had to prove to ourselves and each other that we could do this successfully. And we have . . . We have crossed the finish line, all of us winners. I will always be grateful that this door of opportunity was opened for me.

©2002 The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities

Published in Mass Humanities, Fall 2002