Nationally noted political and cultural commentator, New York Times columnist, and best-selling author David Brooks addresses the graduates. (Photos by Lee Pellegrini)

Speaking at a jubilant Boston Commencement on May 24, nationally noted New York Times columnist and best-selling author David Brooks extolled the Class of 2021 for its resilience and determination during one of the most difficult periods in recent American history.

“This is a college graduation like no other in our lifetimes,” said Brooks, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony. “All graduations are transitions, but this is the mother of all transitions."


The Commencement Exercises—the 144th in University history—were a welcome return to BC tradition after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s festivities. Family members and friends once again dotted the seats at Alumni Stadium, and some 4,321 Boston College students received undergraduate and graduate degrees at separate ceremonies held around campus after the main Commencement event or on May 23 following the Baccalaureate Mass.

2021 Honorary Degree Recipients

Boston College presented honorary degrees to five distinguished individuals. L-R standing: BC Board of Trustees chairman John Fish, Leo V. Sullivan, Sean Guthrie, Christine Montenegro McGrath, Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap.; seated: Lyndia Downie, BC President William P. Leahy, S.J., David Brooks

The University also presented honorary degrees to: Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of the Pine Street Inn; former BC football player Sean Guthrie ’01, M.Ed.’14, head of middle school at The Fessenden School in West Newton, Mass.; Christine Montenegro McGrath ’87, vice president and chief of global impact, sustainability, and well-being for Mondelēz International; and former University Vice President for Human Resources and Senior Advisor to the President Leo V. Sullivan, M.Ed. ’80, P ’89 and ’90.

Brooks, who referred to this year’s crop of graduates as “the Winston Churchill of college classes,” said the emotional, spiritual, and physical toll of COVID-19 has been considerable for all ages, including young people. “But here’s the good thing about enduring a hard thing when you are young. Forever after, you’ll now know you have the capacity to survive hard things and you don’t need to be terrified of them.”

You entered BC during one historical era which had one set of values. You graduate from BC at the start of a different historical era, with a new set of values, which you will write with the book of your lives.
David Brooks
Hariharan Shanmugam

BC President William P. Leahy, S.J., presents Hariharan Shanmugam of the Carroll School of Management with this year's Edward H. Finnegan, S.J., Award, the highest undergraduate Commencement honor, as Board of Trustees chair John Fish looks on.

The prospect of a post-pandemic world is an exciting one, but should be guided by wisdom and courage that will enable us to improve lives, said Brooks, who asked the graduates to consider what role they can play in the reawakening. He called upon them to carefully discern what things they truly love and value, not for the moment but over time: “if you can’t rank your loves you’ll scatter your talents and your life won’t accumulate into anything.”

Brooks listed several areas of focus that could aid this process, such as forming a giving circle with BC friends to help others; building “identity capital” through a personal-growth experience—salmon fishing in Alaska or teaching kindergarten in Mongolia—that people “will ask you about for the rest of your life”; finding a point of agreement when you argue with someone; and discovering your purpose—not what you want from life, but “what does life ask of me?”

He urged the graduates to prepare for “The Great Unmasking,” not just of physical masks but of psychological or emotional ones that inhibit the potential value of our relationships, and our capacity to grow and change.

“You have more to fear from your inhibitions than you do from your vulnerabilities. More lives are wrecked by the slow and frigid death of emotional closedness than by the short and glowing risk of emotional openness. As we unmask, I hope openness will be the order of the day."

Gallery photos by Caitlin Cunningham and Lee Pellegrini


"You entered BC during one historical era which had one set of values," Brooks told the Class of 2021. "You graduate from BC at the start of a different historical era, with a new set of values, which you will write with the book of your lives."

A year ago, Brooks said, “I thought you were the unluckiest generation. But now I look at you and I look at what’s about to happen in all our lives, and I think you are the luckiest generation. We’re going to have a roaring ’20s. And the quality of this decade, and the decades to come, will depend on how well you roar.

“I salute you, Eagles. Have a blast. God bless you.”

Sean Smith | University Communications | May 2021