By Sophia Harris
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley will deliver the Commencement Address to the Framingham State University Class of 2023 at the DCU Center in Worcester on May 21.
Pressley has been representing Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District since 2019. She currently serves on the House Committee on Financial Services.
Pressley has an inspiring story to share with the graduating class. She was the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council in 2009 and then to the Massachusetts congressional delegation in 2018, according to Daniel Magazu, FSU’s communication director and the chair of the Commencement Committee.
Pressley has advocated for reproductive justice, immigrants, consumer justice, seniors, workers, survivors of sexual violence, formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, and justice for individuals who have gone through trauma, according to her website, Pressley.house.gov.
Magazu said, “I think Framingham State is a community that cares passionately about social justice issues. Our anti-racism stance is in full alignment with hers. She's a progressive voice.
“As someone who's been willing to take sometimes unpopular stances because they align with what she believes in, I think she's a great example of a leader who's not afraid to speak truth to power - a great example of a leader who's fearless,” Magazu said.
He added Pressley is a good candidate for a commencement speaker because “in a younger generation of students, many of our students are progressive on social issues.”
The search committee consisted of Magazu; Kelly Kolodny, the faculty representative; Deb Cleveland, the alumni representative; Peter Chisholm, an FSU government relations representative; Dara Barros, the class president; class vice president Andrew Thompson; and student representative Faith Hensley.
According to Magazu, the committee met multiple times during the fall semester. Each member had a list of potential candidates they were interested in considering as commencement speaker.
A poll was sent to the senior class asking students to rate the candidates the committee had chosen as well as add their own candidates, according to Magazu.
Then, the search committee reviewed the results of the poll and chose a candidate, he said.
Barros said some of the factors considered when choosing a commencement speaker were availability, connection to the FSU community, representation of the student body, and an inspirational story to send off the class of 2023.
Magazu said, “We were looking for someone who's got an inspiring personal story, someone who I think will leave a really positive, great message for our graduates.”
After the committee decided, Magazu reached out to Pressley’s team to see if she would like to speak at graduation, he said.
President Nancy Niemi said she is “thrilled” to have Pressley as Framingham State University’s commencement speaker.
She said Pressley is an “advocate for social justice, she advances the will of her Massachusetts constituents with courage and consideration, and she is a strong supporter for women and people of color.”
Niemi added Pressley “also demonstrates that she knows how to work with people in order to accomplish the work we need to do. I am certain she will inspire our graduates and the Framingham State University community with her presence and her message.”
Barros served as the class of ’23 secretary until the elected class of ’23 president, Malik Martin, graduated in the fall semester, when she was elevated to the position of class president for the remainder of the year.
She said one of the factors that contributed to Pressley being chosen was her story.
Barros said, “I thought she would be very inspirational to all of the students at FSU, especially the BIPOC community here.”
She wanted the commencement speaker to be representative of the diversity of the graduating class.
Barros added Pressley’s values line up exactly with what FSU’s community stands for.
She said, “I would say we are a school where we advocate for ourselves.”
She added, “Her diversity and inclusion work, as well her anti-racist work, really just aligns with what FSU believes in and goes in the direction that FSU wants to head to.”
Thompson said he favored Pressley because of the variety of groups she supports in her role.
He said once the committee worked down the list to 15 candidates, “We had to voice why we believed a particular candidate should make the final list.”
The determining factors that set Pressley apart from the other candidates were her values and consistent support for all people.
He added her values align with his own. “In today's day, there seems to be a major disconnect between our elected officials and those that they represent. Having someone like Ayanna Pressley who will stand up and fight for those rights is someone we all need.”
Hensley said her reason for choosing Pressley was “because as a black student and a woman, it’s very important to find representation, especially from an authority figure.”
She added, “What stood out to me was what Pressley fights for - abortion care and women's rights are two themes I find very important, and the fact that Pressley is able to emphasize this was truly what stood out to me.”
Hensley said Pressley's values line up with those of Framingham State because “we are an inclusive and anti-racist campus,” and this is exactly what she stands and campaigns for.
Cleveland ’73 said it is a privilege to have Pressley speak at the commencement ceremony.
She added she is looking forward to hearing her speech.
Cleveland said the search process was executed “smoothly and efficiently” due to Magazu's organization and communication throughout the process.
Kolodny said Pressley has a “very compelling story” about how she entered the realm of politics.
Kolodny said, “I really appreciate all that she stands for.
“For example, civil liberties, her work around issues of poverty, her work for healthy families, healthy children, and then also her work around trauma and sexual violence,” she said.
Kolodny added Pressley “has an amazing agenda that she is working on. … Her platform focused on civil liberties and creating positive social change aligns closely with Framingham State University's mission.”
Chisholm said his role is to facilitate security for Pressley during her visit to the DCU center.
He said Pressley was ranked “very high among the students, and that's the principal reason why a speaker should be chosen.”
Magazu said he is looking forward to Pressley’s speech.
“Her message will be for everyone, regardless of how you feel about her politics. Anyone can be inspired by someone who's used their position to help others.”
He added, “She'll be a great speaker for everyone regardless of how any student may feel, because obviously, we're a big community, and everyone has different feelings about political issues. But I am excited. I do think she's going to be a great speaker.”
Eric Qua, a senior communication arts major, said he “thinks it is cool to have someone else with such national recognition to send us off, it’s great.”
Joshua Kole, a senior business management major, said he is “really excited to feel inspired.”
Kole said, “I just want to feel something that will wrap up the whole time [at FSU] and just make you reflect on it.”
He added, “I'm really not sure what she's going to bring, but I'm excited and I hope it's impactful.”
Joseph Pazzia, a senior business management major, said “She deserves it.
“It is going to be a great speech,” he added.
Brandon Adams, a senior political science major said “I'm curious to hear what she has to say.”
Kamaris Desroches, a senior accounting major, said, “I just want to be inspired.”
She added, “I know she has a story of her own, and I hope she incorporates that to encourage us to get over hard things, especially graduating this year. It's the hardest thing I'm doing being a first-generation [college student]. I just want to be inspired.”
The 2023 undergraduate Commencement Ceremony will be held at the DCU Center in Worcester, at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 21.