Interim Dean John LaBrie delivers graduation address

Interim Dean John LaBrie, EdD


Graduation Speech

Interim Dean John LaBrie, EdD

Northeastern University College of Professional Studies
September 17, 2011                                                                  

Congratulations, Graduates.
Congratulations, parents, daughters, sons, spouses, in-laws and friends.

Although this is a celebration of the graduate’s accomplishments, it is, as well, a celebration for all of us in this room and beyond.

In addition to you, our honored guests, we are fortunate and pleased to welcome an esteemed leader in education, Dr. Jean MacCormack, Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

Dr. MacCormack, your leadership and accomplishments at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth represent the extraordinary strength and the critical contributions of the Commonwealth’s public higher education system.

The excellence and innovation of the University of Massachusetts benefit all of us who live and work in Massachusetts and we are inspired by the increasingly global impact of the University system.

Chancellor MacCormack, thank you for being with us here today.

As Dean, I often have occasion to meet and talk with alumni and students of this college. It is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my role here.

Recently, we held a reception for scholarship recipients and donors, so that students would be able to meet their benefactors personally.

Our scholarships come from individuals who are passionate about the mission and purpose of this College.

One young student spoke to the people gathered.

Her story was filled with humility and with strength.

This student, I will call her “Sarah,” was a stay-at-home mom, caring for her young three-year-old son, when her husband passed away accidentally.

She was left alone to raise her son and to find her way in the world.

Soon, Sarah found a part-time job to help pay the bills. But a job folding towels in a health spa, realistically, was not going to meet the growing needs of her young family.

Sarah recognized the need for an education, but didn’t see how it was all going to come together for her.

She enrolled in her local community college, leveraged her financial aid, studied hard, and continued to work part-time, while also taking care of her growing son.

Upon graduation, with her associate’s degree in hand, she managed to secure a job in a bank and, even found the wherewithal to purchase a small home – modest, yes, but hers.

Today, her now eight-year-old son has a stable home; Sarah has goals, and has her dignity.

But her story does not end there.

Sarah is currently enrolled in the College of Professional Studies here at Northeastern in a Bachelor’s completion program.

I fully expect her to grace our stage at a future graduation. Her dream is being fulfilled by this College, and by this University.

You may be sitting in the audience wondering what this story has to do with you. I would suggest that it has a good deal to do with you.

Sarah, like many of us, had to risk something to pursue her education.

She worked hard with a great deal of uncertainty and when the bills came in; she didn’t always know where the money would come from to pay them.

She questioned her decisions, her capacity, and her judgment. I’m sure a good number of you in this room did the same.

Since the 1980’s, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in how the benefit of education is perceived.

Education had historically been viewed as a public good—a tide that raised all boats.

In the Cold-War era, education, like our transportation and agricultural infrastructure, was seen as a public good benefiting all of society.

Along with our military, these institutions and structures would keep us safe and secure.

A strong public education system, alongside a strong transportation and research infrastructure, were seen as preserving and ensuring our nation’s security.

Education was considered the key to the “good life,” the American dream for individuals and families, and education was seen as critical to our nation’s competitiveness in the world.

This was never more real than for the young immigrant families that found their way to our shores.

Education, for them, became the key to a brighter and happier future.

You could not find a community in the United States that was not willing to invest richly in the education of its youth.

This commitment was often expressed powerfully by the very architecture of the school itself. Travel small town America and look at the schools built in this era, an era not unlike our own.

They stand out as monuments to learning, with grandeur and scale that is not seen anywhere else in the community. The buildings were grand because the ideals they stood for were grand.

For generations, the United States experienced material benefits from this system.

As our educational systems led the world, our economic system led as well.

I could recount statistics of growth and investment, but it is undeniable that we developed the world’s leading educational system – indeed, the envy of the world—and that educational system fueled our economy and our prosperity, as our nation grew to become the world’s largest economy.

Today, without question, our higher education system remains strong.

As we look out amongst our graduates, many of whom have traveled far from their homes to pursue their education here at Northeastern, they, like their U.S. classmates, have done so because of the quality and sophistication of our university.

The United States remains the top destination for international students who wish to study outside of their homeland.

Let me come back to Sarah. Sarah is a go-getter—a doer, a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of a person.

But she is not doing this alone. She uses federal and state financial aid.

Systems that were put in place to assist those amongst us who need some help.

A donor to this college put a scholarship in place years ago that Sarah is able to tap into for more help.

Her employer is helping out. Her family has been supportive.

When Sarah graduates, we will celebrate her accomplishments; and I believe that we are all made better because of it.

If Sarah were sitting next to you today, you would be better off because of her accomplishments.

The pay-off is obvious. Sarah is a better employee because she has more skills and knowledge.

Her son will have a materially better life, because Sarah received an education.

Since Sarah bought a distressed property when she bought her first home, her neighbors will benefit, because their property values will not drop because of an abandoned home.

Sarah’s community benefits because of her increased investment in her school and in her local organizations.

Now, she pays her taxes, contributing to her local, state, and federal governments.

She could have easily taxed these systems, but because education was open to her, because there was support along the way for her, she is making a contribution and in so doing, making a difference in many lives, not just her own.

This is, perhaps, very close to many stories of people in this room.

Your credential earned today and the education you have received will certainly benefit you.

But, it will also benefit many people around you in ways that we can measure and in ways we cannot.

Nevertheless, today education is frequently described as a private good, one that benefits only the individual who is able to afford an education.

In part, because of this view, and the priorities in funding that result from it, there are cracks in our educational system that need to be addressed.

High school graduation rates in some communities struggle to hit 60%.

Many of the students in our society are lacking the help they need to get through high school!

Many of our graduates here today with doctorates and masters of Education will be our foot soldiers in this work.

Now, this economy is difficult and it has been very disruptive to many in this room. I know — I’ve heard your stories.

Many of you are struggling to make ends meet and some of you are struggling to find that next job.

But when you march across this stage today, you will have an asset that is yours forever—your degree.

We all know that your long-term prospects are much greater with a degree than without one.

I ask you, for a moment, to put yourself in the shoes of the student who doesn’t even hold a high school diploma.

For the high school dropout, is the world more frightening? Is the world more intimidating? Does the world feel more dangerous? Of course it does…

Today, many are heading into their future afraid. That is not good for our society. It is clear that education is both a private and a public good.

Too often in our political rhetoric, the cost of education is lumped in a category with other consumables—items that can be removed when economic times are a bit difficult. Items that, once used, don’t leave behind a legacy.

On the contrary, money spent on education doesn’t vanish after it is spent. It grows—that is the nature of an investment.

The money spent on education leaves a legacy. You all are living proof of that legacy.

Graduation is also called a commencement.

You all began this journey in different places. Boston, New York, Beijing, Lowell, Lebanon, Newton…

But you begin your next journey here together and with numbers come strength.

You have worked hard and paid with time and treasure to achieve your goal. You deserve to be truly proud of your accomplishment.

But I ask you also to reflect for a moment.

You have not accomplished all of this on your own.

Reflect on the people and structures that have helped you along the way—those who you could rely on for help.

That may have been a parent, a spouse, a financial aid worker, a faculty member, an advisor.

It may have been someone you knew or someone you didn’t know, but someone, somewhere helped you along the way.

As you reflect, and as you begin your new journey, I ask you to stand up and be counted.

When education is reduced to a consumable in our public discourse, speak up and let your community and leaders know that this is an investment that benefits all of us.

Education benefits the student and everyone else around that individual. Like Sarah, do it from a place of humility but also do it from a place of strength.

As an educated person in possession of a diploma today, you have a privileged view onto the world…a broader view and brighter prospects.

This privilege comes with a responsibility to advocate for a central place for education among our society’s priorities.

We cannot be satisfied with the limitations and failures found in some parts of our educational system because our society and country cannot afford how those limitations impact all of us – impacts the children, impacts the adults, and impacts the community.

Get involved in someone else’s education.

Support them, encourage them and motivate them.

Your credential places you in a select group of leaders in our society and in our world.


Inspire us for another generation!

Thank you, and on behalf of the College of Professional Studies of Northeastern University, I wish you the most glorious journeys.

More about graduation

To read about the CPS Doctoral Hooding Ceremony, visit The ‘culmination of a long-term promise’.

To read about graduates’ experiences at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies (CPS), plans after graduation, and advice to current CPS students working towards their degrees, visit We Learned from Each Other’s Life Experience: Voices from Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies Fall 2011 Graduation.   

To read about the CPS Fall 2011 Graduation, visit Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies Confers 821 Degrees.

The College of Professional Studies celebrates two graduations, fall and spring, in keeping with the College’s flexible approach to education offering an array of options to students including part-time and full-time studies, Fast-Track, online, and hybrid formats. Graduates earned diplomas in 61 different degree programs at the associate, bachelor, master’s, and doctoral levels.

To learn more about graduation, visit:

Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies (CPS) is committed to providing career-focused educational programs that are designed to accommodate the complex lives of motivated learners. Offered in a variety of innovative formats, CPS courses are taught by accomplished scholars and practitioners who have real-world experience. The result is an educational experience founded on proven scholarship, strengthened with practical application, and sustained by academic excellence.

Northeastern University is a global university with a tradition of partnership and engagement that creates an innovative, distinctive approach to education and research. Northeastern integrates classroom studies with experiential learning opportunities in 70 countries, and pursues use-inspired research with a focus on global challenges in health, security, and sustainability.