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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Honored by His Alma Mater, BC's Woods College

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh was honored Tuesday night by the Woods College of Advancing Studies, where he earned his degree in 2009. (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Apr. 24, 2014

Earning his bachelor’s degree at age 43 from the James A. Woods, SJ, College of Advancing Studies took personal perseverance, but also a network of supporters who encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming a college graduate, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh told members of the Woods College Class of 2014 on Tuesday night.

Walsh relied on a network of family, friends, colleagues – even a few naysayers – and supportive Woods College faculty and administrators to keep up his studies and earn his bachelor’s degree in 2009.

“Follow your dream,” Walsh said. “It is never too late to follow your dream.”

Walsh spoke to a crowd of more than 200 students, relatives and faculty and received the Woods College’s first Distinguished Alumnus Award at a ceremony in the Heights Room in Corcoran Commons.

In a friendly and lighthearted talk, Walsh acknowledged how hard it can be to go back to college while balancing work, family and other personal responsibilities.

“I remember getting here after work and sitting in my car parked on Beacon Street and saying to myself ‘I want to go in...I don’t want to go in,’” Walsh said, drawing a knowing laugh from the audience.

Today, his Woods College diploma hangs in his City Hall office. Sworn in as the city’s 54th mayor during a Conte Forum ceremony on Jan. 6, he is the first undergraduate alumnus of BC elected as Boston’s mayor.

“When someone told me no other BC graduate had served as mayor of Boston, I was stunned. So for all of us graduates and soon-to-be graduates of the Woods College, that gives us bragging rights over the other schools and colleges here at BC,” Walsh said, drawing cheers and applause from the audience.

Walsh attended the Woods College while he represented his Dorchester neighborhood in the state House of Representatives, where he served as an advocate for organized labor, public transportation, workforce development and education.

A son of Irish immigrants, Walsh was born and raised in Boston. As a child he successfully battled cancer and he speaks openly about his recovery from alcoholism.

Walsh said he remains grateful to staff at the Woods College – particularly founding Dean James A. Woods, SJ, who led the school for 44 years until his retirement in 2012. He thanked faculty in the audience, including professors Jeff and Margaret Flagg in Romance Languages, and Ted Murphy in Political Science.

James P. Burns, IVD, the interim dean of the Woods College, said the college wanted to honor Walsh because he embodies the tenets of perseverance and compassion that are central to the college’s mission.

“This year we are fortunate to honor a distinguished public servant and a graduate in Mayor Walsh,” Fr. Burns said. “He exemplifies the ideals and characteristics of our Jesuit, Catholic education and his story of perseverance speaks to our students in the Woods College.”

Walsh’s message resonated with this year’s graduates.

“It’s great to see the mayor here and to know he went through the same experience as I did,” said Elsy Orellana, of East Boston, who studied corporate systems and finance. “He’s definitely an inspiration to me and my classmates.”

Accepting the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Fr. Burns, BC Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations Joy Haywood Moore, ’81, H’10, and Alumni Association President Vincent J. Quealy Jr. ’75, Walsh said he was humbled by the honor.

“I know how hard it was to get here tonight,” he told the students. “You balance your studies with family and work. It takes perseverance to get to where you are tonight. You have changed your lives and you change the lives of your families, your communities and your society. As a fellow graduate, I am very proud of you all.”