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Salem State University Announces 2019 Commencement Speakers

SALEM, MA – Salem State University has announced the lineup of speakers for its three 2019 Commencement ceremonies. Speakers include Tarana Burke, founder of the ‘me too.’ movement and social justice activist; Jonathan Blodgett, Essex District Attorney; and William G. Gross, Police Commissioner of the City of Boston. Along with all Commencement speakers, Salem State advocates Joanne ‘68 and Phil Ricciardiello will be receiving honorary doctorate degrees from Salem State University.

“This year, we salute the fight for justice. Our speakers have a powerful, inspiring history of standing up for what is right, for giving those that lack a voice a platform to speak their truths, and for ensuring that members of our community are protected, empowered, and have the opportunity to thrive,” said President John Keenan. “I am truly honored to welcome each speaker and degree recipient to campus for they will share their experience, knowledge, trials, and triumphs with our graduates, undoubtedly inspiring them to forge their own paths to fighting for the greater good as they enter the next phase of their lives.”

Tarana Burke, founder of the ‘me too.’ movement and social justice activist, will address Salem State’s School of Graduate Studies ceremony on Thursday, May 16 at 4 pm. For more than 25 years, activist and advocate Burke has worked at the intersection of racial justice, arts and culture, and sexual violence. In 2003 she co-founded Just Be Inc., an organization committed to the leadership development and wellness of Black girls. After far too many encounters through her work at Just Be Inc. with young people whose lives were affected by sexual violence, Burke realized how many were suffering through abuse without access to resources, safe spaces, and support, thus creating the ‘me too.’ movement. In October 2017, #metoo became a viral phenomenon that quickly spread around the world and Burke has emerged as a global leader in the evolving conversation around sexual violence and the need for survivor-centered solutions. Burke was named Time Magazine 2017 Person of the Year along with the ‘Silence Breakers’, a group recognized for standing up against sexual harassment and violence. In 2018, she was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and on Variety Magazine’s Power of Women issue.

Jonathan Blodgett, Essex District Attorney, will address Salem State’s Maguire Meservey College of Health and Human Services and the Bertolon School of Business on Saturday, May 18 at 10 am. Since he was first elected in 2002, District Attorney Blodgett has been a leader in confronting a range of issues including the opioid epidemic, domestic violence, animal cruelty, underage drinking, auto insurance fraud and gun violence, both through prosecution, diversion, and partnerships with schools, police, and community leaders. DA Blodgett has an innovative and effective approach to fighting crime. He instituted an adult drug diversion program and expanded juvenile and youthful diversion programs throughout the county. He is the President of the National District Attorneys Association, Chairman of the Board of the Addiction Policy Forum and a longtime board member of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance.  He is a graduate of Peabody High School, Princeton University and Suffolk Law School. He lives in Peabody with his wife, Judy. They have three children and four grandchildren.

William G. Gross, Police Commissioner of the City of Boston, will address Salem State’s College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education on Saturday, May 18 at 3 pm. After joining the department in 1983 as a Boston Police Cadet, he graduated from the Boston Police Academy in 1985 and has spent a total of 35 years with the Boston Police department. After spending years as a patrol officer, Gross ascended the ranks, being promoted to sergeant in 2004, sergeant-detective in 2006, deputy superintendent in 2008 and superintendent in 2012. He was the first African American to be appointed as Superintendent-in-Chief in 2014 and the first African American appointed as Police Commissioner in the City of Boston in 2018. He has been awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award; the United States Attorney’s Boston Offices’ Award for Outstanding Dedicated Service to the Survivors of the Boston Marathon Bombing during the Trial of United States vs Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; the Department of Justice Investigative Achievement Award; and was named one of Boston’s 100 Most Influential People of Color.  In June 2018, marking the 50th anniversary of the passing of Robert F. Kennedy, he was presented the Robert F. Kennedy “Embracing the Legacy” Award. 

Joanne (née O’Keefe) ’68 and Phil Ricciardiello, Salem State advocates, will receive an honorary degree during Salem State’s College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education on Saturday, May 18 at 3 pm. The Ricciardiellos are steadfast advocates of Salem State, inspiring alumni and friends to stay connected to the university and educating our constituents about the importance of supporting the university. Creating the largest active alumni group outside of Salem, the Ricciardiellos have hosted alumni and friends of southwest Florida for over a decade. The couple are members of the Crosby and Sullivan Societies, including Salem State in their estate plans, furthering their commitment to the students of Salem State University. During the 10,000 Reasons campaign, Joanne was a member of the Campaign Steering Committee, the President’s Campaign Cabinet, and the Alumni & Parent Subcommittee. The O’Keefe Sports Complex is named in tribute to Joanne’s late father, and the Ricciardiello Atrium, located inside the O’Keefe Sports Complex, is named in honor of Joanne and Phil.

Salem State University’s graduations will all be held at the university’s O’Keefe Complex at 225 Canal Street in Salem, MA. For more information, please visit




Salem State University, established in 1854, is a comprehensive, public institution of higher learning located approximately 15 miles north of Boston, Massachusetts. One of the largest state universities in the Commonwealth, Salem State enrolls more than 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It offers 32 undergraduate programs and graduate programs that offer degrees in 30 fields. The university also has a continuing education division that offers both credit and non-credit programs. Known for the academic strength of its faculty, Salem State was named a Top Producer of U.S. Fulbright Scholars in 2011 and for the 2016-2017 academic year. The university is designated a Top College and University by Military Advanced Education and a Best for Vets College by Military Times. Salem State proudly participates in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement and has shown a student voting rate well above the national average, earning the university a silver seal from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.

Kim Burnett
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