I wasn’t surprised that she stole the show. Although there was steep competition. The fervency last night of our scholarship celebration Gala Committee was palpable.
I’m talking about the proud emotions of people like Mayor Menino ’88 and Bill Weld and Frank Bellotti who all assembled to honor and make remarks about their good friend Peter Berlandi ’69.
Weld’s jokes had the filled to the gills ballroom filled to the gills with laughter. Menino was poignant when sharing his fear that as a guy in his thirties he might uncomfortably stick out as a UMass Boston undergraduate. During his first class he melted confidently into the institution’s warm embrace.
But Lilly was the high point. Lillian O’Flaherty ’11, now a teacher at the Boston International School, our featured student speaker. We talked beforehand about her speech. She said that the multitude of experiences her fellow students brought to the classroom indelibly shaped the sort of education she received.
An English major, when she studied poetry about war, there was an veteran from Iraq next to her. Talk about perspective. When stories discussed the meaning of home as a theme, students who had been homeless offered insights. Wrestling with the meaning of inter-generational relationships? A grandmother was present to enlighten. Learning the history of Boston? The the father of the student at the end of the row was the “beneficiary” of “busing” in the 1970s.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Lilly said. But when she wrote the speech, she decided to be a bit more refined and a lot more eloquent.
“The diversity of the student body combined with its vastness of life experience infused my education with a healthy dose of reality and a strong sense of purpose,” Lilly shared with the nearly 600 guests who had just endowed a new $500,000 scholarship. An audience that hung on her every word because they understood that she was the sort of person who will benefit from the Peter and Jackie Berlandi Scholarship. All those fundraising calls – ten thousand, by five thousand, by one thousand — made worthwhile in a heartbeat, because Lilly is today’s face of UMass Boston. And that face is our Commonwealth’s future.
Listen to an interview with Peter Berlandi on WUMB’s Commonwealth Journal.
Here’s Lilly’s speech. I hope you enjoy.
8th Annual Scholarship Gala
April 30, 2012
Lillian M. O’Flaherty ’11
Good evening. What an honor to be here with so many people who have something in common with me. People who recognize the power of UMass Boston’s mission. Thank you for believing in students like me.
I first arrived on campus when I was five. My mom was studying for her master’s degree and when she couldn’t find a babysitter she would bring my sister and I along. We would sit patiently in the back of the room and color, waiting for class to be over, so we could hit the vending machines—a treat for being well behaved.
When I think about what she went through to get that degree, I am overwhelmed with pride. She paved the way for me to receive the exceptional education I did. So, mom, if you would, please stand up. Thank you for all you’ve done.
Fast forward about twelve years later. I am nearing graduation from Boston Latin School and find myself accepted to UMass Boston. The stress and pressure of having to pay for college was becoming more real by the day. I still remember the afternoon when I opened a letter and read it over and over in awe–eagerly waiting for my parents to come home from work so I could share my good news.
I had been selected for a full, four-year scholarship from the Boston Globe Foundation. Not only did my scholarship alleviate my family’s anxieties, but there was also an added layer of promise. A light was being shined on me, and people who recognized my potential were giving me an opportunity.
I entered the university as a freshman feeling that silent force of support behind me. Things were often difficult—I was in the honors program, I worked, was the editor-in-chief of UMass Boston’s student magazine, and even took extra classes.
Often around finals, when things became overwhelming and I felt like I wanted to pass in my less than perfect essay, or wing it on my math exam, I told myself, “This is not only about you. Others have invested to make your education possible.” That always pushed me to achieve more, get involved, and give back.
What I realized early on in my college career is that a scholarship is worth so much more than it’s monetary value. It is validation, inspiration, and freedom.
It is also the gift of time. I was afforded the luxury of being able to savor my education. I experienced so many wonderful things as a result—a ride in a six person plane with my classmates and art history professor Paul Tucker to visit the world-famous color field painter Ken Noland’s private studio.
A trip to Thompson’s Island in the dead of winter with professor Cheryl Nixon to research the original records of the boy’s orphanage that thrived there in the 1800’s. Time to complete research for my thesis on Irish-language poetry through a post-colonial lens was followed by a trip to Ireland’s native speaking areas the summer after graduation—a result of a university travel grant. Equally as important was the education I received at the hands of my classmates. The diversity of the student body combined with its vastness of life experience infused my education with a healthy dose of reality and a strong sense of purpose.
I am a Boston public school teacher at Boston International High School in Dorchester, a school for new comers to the U.S. I understand, although in a much smaller scope, the struggles my students face. My father is an Irish immigrant who never benefitted from the gift of a college education, but has worked hard his entire life to ensure that my sister and I do. I’m delighted that my most stellar student will be a member of the UMass Class of 2016. She has achieved so much despite losing her mother and father in the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
The rigor and quality of my UMass Boston courses more than prepared me to teach the curriculum. But ultimately, my competence came down to the experiences, relationships, and values I formed while a student here. Because you have invested in the Peter and Jackie Berlandi Scholarship, it is evident that you share these same values. You understand that public education is our society’s ultimate investment, our great equalizer.
I can’t seem to get enough of this place. I plan to enroll in UMass Boston’s education master’s program in the fall. I will be attending the same classes I went to with my mom as a little girl—things really do come full circle.
In his 1841 essay entitled Compensation, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”
Peter Berlandi is someone who embodies this vision. As a devoted mentor and philanthropist, he is keenly aware of the influence one person can have on another’s life. As an educator, I have experienced that same power.
And each of you, who are supporting the new Berlandi Scholarship, will have a similar impact on its future recipients. I have no doubt that the UMass Boston students who will receive this prestigious award will be honored and humbled by your generosity. Like me, I’m sure they will find a way to pay society back “deed for deed, cent for cent.” And that is boundless.
Thank you so much for your support.
Nan Cormier is director of Advancement Communications at UMass Boston