Three Lynn residents played leading roles in Salem State University’s 2021 commencement ceremonies, serving as undergraduate speaker, graduate speaker, and singer.
Francisco Dany Acosta, who graduated with his Bachelor of Social Work, addressed the undergraduate ceremony for the Bertolon School of Business and Maguire Meservey College of Health and Human Services. At the School of Graduate Studies ceremony, students heard from student speaker Brian D’Amico, who graduated with a Master of Business Administration; and the National Anthem was sung by Matthew Bollen, who graduated with a Master of Education in School Counseling. All ceremonies were held virtually, with students attending in-person Viking Roll Call events that allowed them to bring guests, cross the stage, and celebrate with members of the Salem State community.
In his address, Francisco Dany Acosta spoke of his past struggles with drug addiction, gangs, trauma and homelessness. He also discussed overcoming a significant health crisis that led him to lose his vision completely and required four-hour sessions of hemodialysis three times a week before receiving a kidney transplant in 2019.
In his address, Acosta congratulated students for achieving what may have seemed impossible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He said, “Oxford Dictionary defines impossible as, ‘that which cannot be done.’ But was it not Nelson Mandela, the South African revolutionary President who said, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ I am humbled to stand in a room full of resilient overcomers of impossibilities in a COVID world who said, ‘it can be done!’”
Acosta has lived in Lynn since 2014, after having moved from Mexico to Los Angeles at age two. He graduated from North Shore Community College in 2018, where he also served as commencement speaker, before transferring to Salem State. He plans to continue his current work at Centerboard in Lynn, where he serves as a mentor and English teacher, before returning to Salem State in 2022 to complete his Master of Social Work degree.
Brian D’Amico grew up in Lynn and remembers seeing the Wayne Alarm Systems tower as a child. Now, he serves as the company’s director of human resources, having joined the team in January 2019. D’Amico graduated from Lynn Vocational and Technical High School. With an interest in business and human resources, he first pursued his associates degree at North Shore Community College, attending part time and graduating in 2016 after four years. He then transferred to Salem State and completed his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in human resources management, before completing Salem State’s Master of Business Administration program this spring. He worked at Fauci Pizza in Lynn for 15 years throughout middle school, high school, and while completing his associates degree.
In his address, D’Amico highlighted the “three D’s” that have helped him succeed: drive, determination, and desire,” and he reflected on graduates’ ability to overcome all that stood in the way of completing their degrees. He said, “It’s not about the challenges, it’s how we adapt to the challenges and keep moving forward. As we progress in our professions, we need to keep this strategy in the back of our minds. Obstacles often change but staying on track with your goals will always get you to the finish line.”
Matthew Bollen was born and raised in Lynn and began singing while he was a student at Lynn English High School. He graduated this spring with his second Master of Education, this time earning his master’s in school counseling. Singing at the 2021 Graduate Commencement ceremony marks the second time Bollen has sung at a Salem State commencement; he served as commencement singer 10 years ago upon receiving his undergraduate degree from Salem State. Bollen has worked as a science teacher at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Lynn for the past nine years and hopes to become a school counselor in the future.
“It was an honor to be a part of the ceremony, and I feel motivated to get back into singing,” said Bollen.
Salem State University celebrated awarding nearly 1500 undergraduate and graduate degrees to the class of 2021 and over 1900 undergraduate and graduate degrees to the class of 2020, in virtual ceremonies and small gatherings this month. All commencement ceremonies aired virtually at 12 pm on Saturday, May 22. The university’s physically distanced, in-person Viking Roll call events were held on May 14 and 15 for the Class of 2020 and May 21 and 22 for the Class of 2021.
In all virtual ceremonies, students had the opportunity to hear from commencement speaker Monique W. Morris, Ed.D., a social justice advocate, award-winning author, and filmmaker. Toiell Washington, of Boston, addressed the 2021 College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education ceremony. Class of 2020 student speakers included Frederick Kelley IV, of Melrose (undergraduate) and Lisa McCarron, of Westford (graduate). Additional student singers included Akane Ishida, of Chiba-Ken Chiba, Japan (all 2020 ceremonies); Olivia Perez, of Danvers, (2021 College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education Ceremony); and Maria Rodriguez, of Salem (2021 Bertolon School of Business and Maguire Meservey College of Health and Human Services ceremony).