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‘Let Your Life Be A Lighthouse’: Pemberton Speaks at Class of 2020 Commencement

Lighthouses are the “most selfless structure,” existing as a beacon of light in times of uncertainty, and according to commencement speaker Steve Pemberton, the Class of 2020 is the embodiment of the lighthouse.

“There are nearly 23,000 lighthouses standing in the world today, but on Monday, May 18 of 2020, we conferred 2,332 more, because the most powerful lighthouses in the world have always always been the human ones,” Pemberton, honorary doctorate recipient and BC ’89, said.

The BC community welcomed the Class of 2020 back to campus for a delayed Commencement on Sunday after the ceremony was canceled due to COVID-19 nearly a year-and-a-half ago.

University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., began the ceremony by acknowledging the commitment of the attendees in returning to the Heights for this special event, as well as praising the perseverance of the BC community.

“Much has happened since BC and other schools suspended classes in March 2020 because of COVID-19,” Leahy said. “As we know, the months since then have had their share of disruption and heartache, but our world and Boston College have persevered.”

This ceremony, Leahy said, invites the graduates to reflect on their time since March 2020 and to recognize current realities and opportunities. According to Leahy, the world needs the members of the Class of 2020.

“We need you to help resolve challenges and bring more hope to our day,” Leahy said. “I believe that you are already doing that, and I urge that you leave this weekend more deeply committed to sharing with others the benefits you have received from your Boston College education.”

Pemberton—philanthropist, bestselling author, and chief people officer for Workhuman—first spoke to the graduates for their Convocation in 2016. He joined them once again to deliver the Commencement address, acknowledging that this address is not like others.

“The traditional role of the Commencement speaker is to offer words of counsel and advice, but you know the truth of it is that this is not a traditional Commencement,” Pemberton said.

He said the graduates have entered into a significantly different world characterized by a pandemic, an economic meltdown, and a polarizing political culture. Navigating this world has been challenging for everyone, Pemberton said, but most especially for the Class of 2020.

“It has indeed required you to be resilient, to stand strong, to have faith, and to still serve in the spite of all of the extraordinary circumstances,” Pemberton said.

Many seniors wondered if their abrupt departure in March of 2020 was the final time their class would be together, but Pemberton said he wanted to assure them that it was never going to end that way.

“The Boston College experience is never really measured by a specific time and place, but over the span of a lifetime because that is how long it takes to realize just how treasured your time here really was,” Pemberton said.

Pemberton then gave the audience an extended metaphor about a ship and a lighthouse, comparing the graduates to lighthouses as “keepers of the Ignatian flame” who serve as beacons in times of chaos. 

“The lighthouse, the savior of the sea, exists now not to help us navigate the sea, but to help us navigate humanity—to show us and provide to us a perpetual reminder of how we ought to be with one another and how we ought to be to one another,” he said.

Pemberton said that the lighthouse is the most selfless structure created by humankind.

“It serves no purpose other than to be of service to another—to simply be a beacon in times of uncertainty and chaos,” Pemberton said. “It is faithful, steadfast, humble, [and] resilient; it seeks neither reward nor recognition.”

The Class of 2020 also reminds him of common humanity in others, he said.

“We all have been reminded, through your example, of the importance of family and friendship, and common humanity that really does connect us,” he said. “We better understand that God’s greatest gifts to us, whether that be the miracle that is life, the sanctuary that is this planet, or the national treasure that is democracy is only as strong as our willingness to protect and defend it.”

Pemberton said that as Commencement speaker, he serves as the graduates’ final professor. In this role, he left the class with final assignments.

“You have to let the lighthouses in your life know just how important they are to you,” he said.

The other final commission, Pemberton said, was to let their lives be lighthouses.

“Let your life be a lighthouse for this University that will always treasure you,” he said. “Let your life be a lighthouse for the community that raised you and celebrates you. Let your life be a light for a world that does indeed summon you. Let your life be a lighthouse for your family that loves you in small ways and in big ways, but on every day, let your life be a lighthouse.”


Images by Vikrum Singh / Heights Editor

October 17, 2021