Education for Service

Forever Boston State

The Meaning of Boston State


This speech was given by Ursula Tafe, the granddaughter of Dr. William Looney, former president of Boston State, at a portrait unveiling on June 5, 2010. Tafe is a political science lecturer at UMass Boston. The portrait hangs in the UMass Boston Boston State Room at the Campus Center.

Thank you Chancellor Motley for your kind words of introduction, and for your constant and genuine efforts to keep the memory, spirit, and mission of Boston State College (and its predecessor institutions) alive and well at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

We are here tonight to celebrate Boston State College, and its first president, my grandfather, Dr. William F. Looney. I grew up hearing stories about Boston State College, and I was always proud when I heard my grandfather/papa, addressed as “President Looney.”

I learned in my youth, as all his 17 grandchildren did, that Papa had worked his whole life as a teacher, and that the proudest accomplishment of his career was the creation of Boston State College. When the decision was made to close Boston State, and incorporate it into UMass Boston, I remember my grandfather was sad, but I don’t remember him being angry. And while I know now — that the decision was controversial at the time, and perhaps to some it so remains, my experiences — after eight years of teaching here — make me see the relationship between Boston State and UMass Boston as a union, one which like a marriage, made each partner stronger.

The union of Boston State College and UMass Boston is, to this day, a union of flesh and blood; from the University’s Provost, Winston Langley, to Jack Looney, whose efforts were so central to making this evening possible, to my own colleague in the Department of Political Science and the McCormack Graduate School, Professor Robert Weiner — the halls and classrooms of UMass Boston continue to be filled by those who knew my grandfather, or were part of the Boston State College Community.

But the best, and the truest reflection of the ‘more perfect union’ created when Boston State and UMass Boston were joined — is its students who now number 15,000 strong. I consider myself unbelievably lucky to spend my days surrounded by exactly the kinds of hard-working and dedicated students for whom my grandfather dedicated his life, and worked so long and hard to make Boston State College a reality.

My grandfather understood, from his own experiences and from those of many others, that the opportunity for a quality higher education was not a privilege bestowed only upon those with the proper pedigree or economic means; higher education was not the exclusive domain of those of a particular race, religion or national origin. My grandfather believed — to his core — that the opportunity for a first class college education is a right. A right should be made accessible to any man or woman, of any race, religion or national origin — who is able and willing to put forth the effort that is required to achieve it.

The mission — and passion — that drove my grandfather throughout his professional life, was to make sure that those who were prepared to work hard to achieve their dreams would have an opportunity to do so. This is the same mission — and the same passion — that is found at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The same mission and passion that the Chancellor, the Provost, and all the faculty and staff here strive to fulfill each and every day.

UMass Boston is an institution of higher education that welcomes students who might otherwise have give up on their dreams; students, who in their youth may not have live up to their potential get a second chance, and sometimes even a third, at UMB; students who may have delayed t heir dreams of going to college so they could serve their country in the armed forces, and now, having returned — often after experiencing war — are eager to begin the next, hopefully, more peaceful, stage of their lives; students who chose first to work and raise a family, but now are able to dedicate energy to their own dreams of going to college.

These are the students of UMass Boston; through decades removed from my grandfather’s career, and from the brick and mortar of Boston State College, they are the same students my grandfather adored, believed in, and helped to build a college to educate. These are the students that all of us at UMass Boston continue to adore, believe in and help to educate.

There is a moment every year, when the missions of Boston State College and UMass Boston are joined and witnessed by thousands: it’s during my favorite part of the commencement ceremony, when the Chancellor asks all those seniors who are the first in t heir families to graduate from college to rise; with those words, a wave o black gowns and mortarboards — adorned with golden tassels — sweeps across the campus lawn and is met by a flood of applause.

It is in this moment, that the “ripple effect” of education is on full display. Each of these seniors who is the first in their family to graduate from college will have opportunities in life that would never have been possible otherwise — their children, will have high expectations of themselves and further opportunities made available to them, and so on and so on.

My grandfather knew that this is the true power of education. He witnessed the reality and force o this power in his own family. As the first in his family to graduate from college, my grandfather passed the expectations of working hard in school and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way, onto his children: Bill, Jr., Ursula and Anne. each of whom went on to gain advanced degrees and enter professional careers in education law. They, in turn, passed the same — and perhaps more demanding–expectations onto their children.

Whether my siblings and cousins decided to follow their parents into education or law, as many of us have, or ventured on their own paths in: social work or business, carpentry or music, advocating on behalf of those with substance abuse problems, becoming a pastry chef or homemaker, whether they chose to join the Peace Corp or join the circus . . . each of my grandfather’s grandchildren has been a beneficiary of the choices and opportunities that were made possible, almost a century ago, when he took advantage of the opportunities for high education that were made available to him.

My grandfather was an educator his whole life, in the classroom and beyond. From teaching his grandchildren to drive, to agreeing to a third grade show-and-tell display when one of his grandchildren was asked to bring in an item from the 19th century; to hold us all mesmerized during those dark days, when the wicked curse of the Bambino still hung heavy over Boston, of Red Sox World Series Victories!! He never stopped teaching; this was, for him, the purpose of his life. I want to conclude my remarks-which I’m afraid have gone on too long — by thanking Chancellor Motley again for his presence here this evening. And, in recognition of his continued support of my grandfather’s beloved Boston State College, his children — Bill Looney, Ursula Tafe, and Anne Paulsen, along with their spouses — Larry Tafe and Fred Paulson, would like to make a donation to the university, to be used for whichever purpose you believe to be most worthy.


  1. My grandfather was also a teacher. He is now a nice old man that smiles every time he sees me and always, ALWAYS gives me the best advice or says exactly what i need to hear. He has all of my respect.

  2. I think the most satisfying thing about being a teacher is seeing a little of yourself in every student. Years pass and some come visit you. Most don’t, but you can be sure that the ones who remember you have learned valuable life lessons, not only curricula.

  3. A great-great-…great grandfather of mine who was a priest helped build the first school in our country in 1583. Many generations later, teaching always remained a family proffesion, being more spiritually rewarding than being a priest. I now study advances physics and start teaching next year. It’s my family’s and my contribution to this world.

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