In his address at Hamilton’s commencement, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker shared five observations with the Class of 2017, reminding them that “discussing differences is not a war, it’s a conversation. There can always be more than one point of view.” [Watch full speech]

Baker gave the address at Hamilton’s commencement on Sunday, May 21, in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House where 508 students received bachelor’s degrees. He was awarded an honorary degree, along with John B. Emerson ’75, retired U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany; Hamilton trustee Nancy Roob ’87, president and CEO of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and CEO of Blue Meridian Partners; and Adam Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum.

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2017 commencement facts

Speaker: Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker

Ceremony: Hamilton's 205th

Degrees Awarded: 508 Bachelor of Arts

Co-Valedictorians: Jonah Boucher and Elizabeth Prescott

Summa cum laude graduates: 25

Magna cum laude: 51

Cum laude graduates: 50

Phi Beta Kappa: 56

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Also speaking at Commencement was Alec Talsania of Fogelsville, Pa., recipient of The James Soper Merrill Prize, and class speaker Katherine Brouns of Portland, Ore.

Hamilton’s co-valedictorians were Jonah Boucher of Rochester, N.Y., and Elizabeth Prescott of Lenox, Mass.  

Baker began his remarks recounting how he came to be chosen as this year’s speaker. When he was running for governor, all the candidates were asked to complete a Proust questionnaire (a personal survey). When asked his biggest regret, Baker responded: “not going to Hamilton.” Baker, who is a Harvard alumnus, told the Hamilton audience that Commencement planners “simply knew my fondness for this place has never wavered” since he visited the Hill as a prospective student more than 40 years ago.

In his five observations he advised, “Be soft on people and hard on issues. Good people can have honest disagreements. ” He noted that his parents – a Republican father and liberal Democrat mother - “cancelled out each other’s vote for 60 years, but they could agreeably disagree.  I learned that discussing differences is not a war, it's a conversation. ... There can always be more than one point of view and it’s important to hear them all,” he said.

Baker also said, “Don't confuse motivation with performance or effort with results. In the end we get measured on how we perform and that is how it should be.”  He told graduates, "What you do is important but how you do it is just as important. An 'A' plan with a 'C' execution is just that - it's a 'C' plan.”

Third, Baker advised, “Stretch yourself and don't be afraid to fail.” He acknowledged that “Failure is almost always a part of ultimate success” and observed that if he hadn't lost in his first run for governor in 2010, he probably wouldn’t have won in 2014.

Baker reminded graduates, “Your first job will rarely be your last ... Some jobs are for figuring out what you’re good at and what you’re not.” 

Finally, he said, “Don't settle for average in anything, work with people you respect and make sure you do something you enjoy...Be a great friend, a wonderful parent, a spectacular neighbor, a devoted partner. Tell funny stories, volunteer, serve your community. Be present, listen and laugh. Appreciate the gifts we've been given and try to make the most of your time here on earth.”

Baker concluded, “The slate is mostly clean and the next chapter is up to you. Make the most of it, don't waste this precious chance that you have to make a difference. There are plenty of opportunities out there you just need to find them and go get them.”

Alec Talsania '17
Alec Talsania '17, recipient of The James Soper Merrill Prize. Watch speech

Talsania, the Soper Merrill award winner as selected by the faculty, used his speech to look back at the last four years with a tour of Martin’s Way. He said the most meaningful part of the walk “is the friends that we have encountered on this path…These are the friends we have stayed up late with studying, conversed around the dining tables with, and have challenged and engaged us to think about new ideas and other perspectives. These friends have helped us through the tough times, celebrated the good times with us, and made us smile and laugh through it all. These are the lifelong friends who sit next to us today.

“We have all traveled down Martins Way together for four years, but now we will go in new directions…. As we move through life’s paths, let us carry with us Hamilton memories and the enduring friendships made during our time on the Hill.”

Kate Brouns '17
Kate Brouns '17, class of 2017 speaker. Watch speech

In her speech, Brouns asked, “How do we make sense of life after Hamilton, when our daily challenges aren’t as straightforward as questions on an exam or navigating a dining hall?

“But this is the benefit of a liberal arts education… We leave Hamilton with the tools to navigate postgrad’s unpredictable, messy, friction-filled reality.”

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