Lori Trahan

Commencement Address at Northern Essex Community College – May 18, 2024

Lori Trahan
May 18, 2024— Northern Essex Community College, Essex County, Massachusetts
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Graduates, esteemed faculty, honored guests, and family: it is a privilege to be here at Northern Essex Community College for this year's commencement ceremony.

Today is a day of celebration. It's a day to honor your tremendous accomplishments, your relentless perseverance, and your unmatched dedication to your studies and to yourselves. This moment is a culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice, and determination. You've dedicated countless early mornings spent in classrooms and late nights pouring over lessons, often while juggling jobs, kids, and the other commitments necessary to support yourselves and your families. But through it all, you've shown a consistent, impressive commitment to your education.

Of course, today is not only a celebration of your academic achievements—those speak for themselves—but it's also a recognition of your resilience in the face of challenges big and small that threaten to derail you from being here today. You made it, and for that we all applaud you.

As we reflect on your journey to this point, it's important to acknowledge the significance of this moment and this place in history.

Massachusetts is on the cusp of a new era, a time of profound change and opportunity, and we've been here before.

Nearly 250 years ago, it was young adults here in Massachusetts, many of them not much older than most of you who will walk across the stage in a few moments, who courageously stood up to the British crown just down the road in Concord. A shot was fired—a shot heard ‘round the world—sparking a revolution against colonialism and for independence and setting the foundation for the freedoms we cherish today.

A century later, this city and many along the Merrimack River powered America's Industrial Revolution. Generations of immigrants—my grandparents included—flocked to this region in search of a better life for their families, and they found work in the mills that still line our city's horizons.

Just years later, a labor revolution was sparked right here. Mill girls from Lowell fed up with years of long hours and dangerous work conditions, being rewarded with nothing but pay cut after pay cut, they had had enough. They went on strike, demanding the wages and the protections they were owed.

And although they were ultimately unsuccessful, they paved the way for the Bread and Roses Strike right down the road in Lawrence in 1912, a remarkable moment referred to as the strike that shook America because of the way young people—many of them young parents—supercharged the labor movement that eventually delivered weekends and worker protections that we still cherish today.

Then, just three decades later, an entire generation of young Americans mobilized in response to the rising tide of fascism sweeping Europe and turning its gaze on our very shores. Tens of thousands of young Americans crossed the English Channel and stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Despite harrowing odds, they charged forward, confronting fear with unwavering resolve. These brave souls, many barely out of their teens, successfully turned the tide against tyranny and toward freedom.

Graduates, the moment in front of you may differ from the obstacles that generations before you faced, but the stakes are just as high. Both at home and abroad, we're seeing a rise in authoritarianism from strongmen seeking to start wars to bad actors looking to fan the flames of conflicts that have spanned generations.

We're seeing people in positions of immense power embrace rhetoric and policies that promise to turn back the clock rather than push our country forward. And we're seeing a stark divide in what was once so clearly our shared love and appreciation for humanity.

What do we do in response to these threats will determine what kind of country we call home, what kind of world we raise our children in. Will we stand for freedom, like the revolutionaries? Will we fight for progress, like the mill girls and the Bread and Roses strikers? Will we hold on to our democracy like an entire generation did 80 years ago as a world war raged?

You all will answer those questions. This next chapter in history is yours to write. No matter the course you choose to chart after today, whether it's to continue your education, enter the workforce, or start your own venture, know that you are well-prepared to succeed in this moment.

And what a moment it is. As we speak, Massachusetts is seeing unprecedented investments, investments designed not only to bring us into the 21st century but to win it. Roads and bridges are being built, our water systems are being upgraded. But this is so much more than that. We're seeing new opportunities in manufacturing, clean energy, advanced technologies, health care that are creating good-paying, family-sustaining jobs at every level. And they're being created right here in our gateway cities.

These are the jobs that you have spent your time at Northern Essex training for. The skills, the knowledge and experience you've gained during your time here have equipped you to thrive in this rapidly evolving landscape.

And as you stand in the threshold of the future, I urge you to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead with the same courage, determination, and optimism that have carried you this far.

Make no mistake—the road will have its challenges. Life will do its best to get in the way, just as it did on your road to this momentous achievement. But looking out at all of you here today, I have no doubt that each and every one of you has the strength and the resilience to overcome any obstacle you come across, because that's who you are in your core. You know what you want to achieve and you won't give up until you get there. That will carry you far in the years ahead.

I'll leave you with one final request as you prepare to enter this next phase of your life: don't for a second let anyone tell you that our best days are behind us. We are a country that is going to continue to improve with each generation, and that requires you. Now more than ever, we need you to vote. We need you to use your voice for the causes that you care about. We need you to push for progress.

Our nation has always benefited when young people lead the way, and there's no better example of that than here in Massachusetts, where generations of young people have always, always stood for freedom, for justice, for equality, and for economic opportunity for everyone.

Class of 2024, it's now your turn to take up that fight, to carry the values and the expertise we cherish as a commonwealth and use them to drive our country forward. Your walk across the stage today is as much a testament to your hard work and your perseverance as it is to how prepared you are to lead your generation.

As you write this next chapter, as you build on the progress made by those who came before you, may you continue to strive for greatness, pursue your passions, and make a positive impact on the world around you. Those who follow in your footsteps are depending on you, and I couldn't be more optimistic.

Congratulations graduates, and best of luck.

Northern Essex Community College. “2024 Commencement Ceremony.” YouTube video, 1:58:29. May 18, 2024. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g59RZZB-Kms