Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

Sharing Strengths to Support Community Colleges

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Last week I had the privilege of being the commencement speaker at Mass Bay Community College, one of 15 community colleges in the state. It gave me a new appreciation for the vital role of community colleges and how many are sharing the strength’s to help them succeed.

Mass Bay Community College is 50 years old. I met many faculty members who had taught there for three decades. Most have PhD’s and a lot of options in terms of where they could teach, but wanted to work with students who might not have the advantages and the opportunities of others who attend more elite schools. The board of course is all volunteer. And their extraordinary president, Carole Berotte Joseph, when inaugurated in 2005, was the first Haitian American college president in the country. She was born in Port au Prince, grew up in NY, and we met at a lunch hosted by the Haiti Fund of the Boston Foundation. This is her last year in Boston as she has been recruited by the City University of New York to become president of the Bronx Community College.

Some of the students are going on to four year colleges; others are heading to work in fields ranging from nursing to automotive maintenance. Some are single parents, and some of special education requirements. Many are of modest financial means and have overcome significant challenges to make it all the way to graduation. They have a refreshing sense of appreciation for what they’ve earned more than a sense of entitlement to it. For me it was an honor to be able to challenge them to share their own strength’s, to bear witness, to be a voice for those whose voices are rarely heard, and to have always seek to have the imaginations of unreasonable men and women.