Byline: George Barnes
GARDNER - Author Ben Coes' main message to graduates and family members at Mount Wachusett Community College's 46th commencement last night was serious, but much of his address had them laughing out of their seats.
The serious message was that when he was 7, his father, an employee for CBS, divorced his mother and moved away.
"As you can imagine, this was like having a nuclear bomb dropped in the backyard," he said. "It changed everything."
Mr. Coes said his life was turned upside down. His mother had to go to work to feed the family. He said dealing with that was the most difficult challenge of his life, worse than the open heart surgery he went through in January, and nearly drowning in a boating accident two summers ago.
"And yet, it was this terrible challenge that developed in me self-reliance, the toughness, the perseverance that have been at the center of everything I have achieved since," he said.
Since then he went on to graduate from Columbia University, work as a speechwriter in the White House during two presidential administrations, as a speechwriter for U.S. Energy Secretary James Watkins during the Persian Gulf War and for Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens. He is author of the book "Power Down," a novel about terrorists attacking the nation's energy supply.
Mr. Coes told the graduates the single most important quality you can have as a human being is perseverance. He said anyone can have it.
"It's sitting there for the taking for anyone. You just have to tell yourself, `I'm going to do it. I'm not going to quit,'" he said.
Humor also was part of his coping as a child and he had those attending the graduation laughing as he offered some advice. He said that since he could not remember his own graduation speaker, "Don't drink beer during graduation, or at least don't drink a lot of beer during graduation."
He also offered advice gleaned from his children. His 11-year-old son said to talk about his new tennis racquet or the movie "The Bourne Ultimatum." His 9-year-old son suggested he talk about the human body. His 7-year-old son said to tell about a guy with a blaster gun who shoots a bad guy in the head, and his 5-year-old daughter said he should talk about rainbows.
"Kids are amazing, wonderful things. They light up the world, but the truth is they really don't know what they're talking about," he said.
The college awarded 741 degrees to 679 graduates and awarded Mr. Coes and former state Rep. Raymond M. LaFontaine with honorary doctorates. The school also named James P. Adams, Gail M. Allen and Edward and Helen Lepkowski as Service Above Self award recipients.
The 2011 Mount Wachusett Community College graduates:
Ashburnham: Associate degrees: Kathleen A. Allen, Heather A. DeLeon, Ashley Ellsworth, Kayla K. Hamilton, Shane B. Langelier, Kassandra Laskarides, Chad M. Lehtinen, Samantha M. Osolin, Kyle Price, Mary L. Soeldner, Sharon L. Tardiff, Vincent H. Testagrossa, Justine L. Thibeault
Certificates: Kathleen A. Allen, Jean L. Camerer, Gregory Dimacale, Meredith L. Fagan, Raeanne J. Gage, Kayla K. Hamilton, Jacqueline R. Osolin, Heather N. Sikora, Maija B. Sumner
Ashby: Associate degrees: Thomas A. Carey, Erin E. Finneron, Thomas I. Greene, Erin S. Johnson, Kenneth J. LeBlanc Jr., Matthew G. Leonard, Richard W. Shaw
Athol: Associate degrees: Charles L. Adams, Mary Ellen Anderson, Jennifer L. Bacigalupo, Sonnie R. Beck, Kelsey L. Bednarz, Jessica F. Chase, Stephanie C. Cross, Nicholas A. Harrington, Sherry L. Hastings, Jessica L. Hickey, Meghan I. Hume, Kodi A. Ladroga, Jennifer L. Landry, Audrey A. MacLean, Rebecca H. Mahoney, Kimberly A. McCormack, Jeffrey A. Mompremier, Johnathan D. Rivers, Nicholas P. Roche, Stephanie Santana, Ashley R. Schulz, Anthony J. Sheffield, Michelle L...