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Tewksbury Resident, Bridgewater Native Delivers Commencement Address at Salem State University 

Joseph Tocci, a native of Bridgewater who currently resides in Tewksbury, served as the graduate commencement speaker for Salem State University’s class of 2022 at the Maguire Meservey College of Health and Human Services ceremony held on May 20. In his speech, Tocci shared his story as a veteran who developed a passion for social work after being helped by a social worker at the VA Boston Healthcare System, where he now works as a peer support specialist. 

Tocci was receiving his Master of Social Work at the ceremony, for which he had been selected to serve as student speaker. His address is available at this link at 57:55. 

Tocci's speech recounts his experience as a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq. After receiving many accolades as a Marine, Tocci encountered challenges upon returning home amid the 2008 financial crisis.  

“There were no jobs, and no one was hiring a Marine with the only transferable skill of combat,” Tocci told the audience. “Within three months of being home, with no work, no sense of purpose, I found myself losing my identity and who I was as a person because I was no longer Sgt. Tocci who helped and assisted others, I was just Joe dealing with myself.” 

Tocci shared that these challenges led to homelessness and substance abuse, and that his path changed with the help of individuals from the VA Boston HCS.   

“They had empathy, compassion, and actually showed interest in me, in my story, and what brought me from a place of success and what I thought was failure,” he said. “They saw something in me that I did not.”  

Since 2015, Tocci has worked for the same program that helped him, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which combines HUD's Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance for homeless Veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the VA.  

Along with his academic credentials, Tocci’s life journey aids him in serving others. He shared some of his own lessons with the audience, urging them not to be defined by others.  

“Stay true to yourself, don’t ever give up, rise to the occasion,” he said. “Change the narrative and change the course of others’ assumptions. At the end of the day, the only person you have to prove something to is yourself.”  

Watch Tocci's address, starting at 57:50.

Nicole Giambusso
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