Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker took the opportunity as keynote speaker of Union College’s 222nd commencement to shine a fresh light on one of the school’s most prominent graduates.
“History has not been kind to Chester A. Arthur,” Baker said. “And I think that stinks.”
Speaking on a cloudy, cool Sunday to about 550 students and their families, Baker spent much of his speech talking about Arthur, an 1848 Union graduate who became the nation’s 21st president. Baker, a Republican who has publicly said he won’t support Donald Trump as the party’s nominee in the upcoming presidential election, highlighted Arthur’s character and the way he treated others.
His speech had three simple points: Don’t be a jerk, don’t settle for average and don’t be afraid to fail. Baker illustrated the first two points by talking about how Arthur was a politician who treated others with dignity and respect at a time when others didn’t.
Baker, whose son, A.J., was among those graduating Sunday, told the crowd that when Arthur was running as James Garfield’s vice president, some accused him of not being born in the United States.
“If this sounds familiar, it’s supposed to,” he said. “Some things in politics never go away.”
Speaking just a short distance from a statue of Arthur on campus, Baker said it can be easy to succumb to making insults, which is why we should admire people like Arthur. The former president took over as commander-in-chief in 1881 after James Garfield was assassinated.
In addition to talking about the former president, Baker spoke about how his own experiences in politics have shaped him. A survey released in early May by Morning Consult shows Baker with a 72 percent approval rating, the highest of any governor in the United States.
Baker was elected governor in 2014. He had previously served in the administrations of Massachusetts Governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci. However, he told the crowd that if not for running for governor in 2010 and losing, he may never have learned from the experience, run again in 2014, and won.
In addition to giving the commencement address, Baker received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Union College.
The school also awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree to William Howard Kimbel, a professor at Arizona State University who does research on human origins. In 2013, Kimbel led a team that discovered a fossilized jaw in Ethiopia that has been dated to 2.8 million years ago.
In its entirety, the commencement ceremony lasted about two and a half hours. It began with faculty and graduating students proceeding through the Nott Memorial en route to Hull Plaza, where the ceremony took place.
As the names of the graduates were read off, many family members and friends took the opportunity to move indoors, out of the wind and cool temperatures.
Sunday’s class of about 550 students is among the largest that has graduated from Union College.
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