Photo by Ryan Mooney
The most common place to find Dennis Drinkwater this time of year is at Fenway Park, sitting directly behind home plate on Red Sox game days. The founder and president of Giant Glass only missed seven home games last season.
But with his beloved Sox down in St. Petersburg for the second night of an eight-game road swing, Drinkwater could be found in one of the best seats in the house at Rockett Arena on Thursday night, on stage with 26 other distinguished members of the Salem State community for the university's Graduate School Commencement.
A 1967 graduate, Drinkwater, who received an honorary Thursday night, joined 384 of the 514 graduate school students to receive master's degrees and certificates of advanced graduate studies at the home of the Vikings inside Salem State's O'Keefe Center.
A great deal has changed since Drinkwater earned his bachelor's degree in education and went on to start one of the most recognizable businesses in New England, but he still spends a good deal of time on the North Shore and runs into Salem State graduates seemingly at every turn.
"It's a community," Drinkwater said before the ceremony. "Just the other day I'm at the Starbucks, my son graduated in '94, I'm '67 and another guy says 'I was there in 1982.' So here you are, you got three guys talking together all in different capacities in the business world, in the North Shore, doing different things, and everywhere I go there's a lot of Salem State alumni who are really working at it, and staying in the area."
With more than 400 grad students from the Bay State, and 171 hailing from the university's own backyard on the North Shore, if he continues to hang around here, playing 18 holes on sunny days at the Salem Country Club, Drinkwater will continue to meet more of them.
Whitney Nelson is one of those local graduates. Nelson, one of 25 Beverly natives in the class of 2012, earned her bachelor's degree at Western Connecticut State University, and was on hand to receive her master of education in school counseling from Neal DeChillo, dean of Salem State's College of Health and Human Services.
"For the price that you're paying and the education that you're getting, [Salem State] is a no-brainer," Nelson said. "You can't beat it."
Currently an intern in the guidance department at Gloucester High School, Nelson took to the podium as valedictorian and spoke to the subject of her passion, which she strives to give back to: public education.
Photo by Mike Sperling for Salem State
"I believe in public education," Nelson said. "The education I've received has been top-notch and extremely valuable.
"Public education was created to improve society. For all of us graduating today, that is our charge."
Before awarding graduate diplomas, Salem State Trustee Chairman Jacob Segal and university President Patricia Meservey presented Drinkwater and Molly Baldwin, the founder and executive director of Roca, a nonprofit based in Chelsea that helps at-risk youths steer their lives away from violence and criminal behavior, and the commencement's keynote speaker, with Honorary Doctorates in Humane Letters.
But as the university's Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Karen Cady put it, this was about the students.
"I hope your dreams take you to the corners of your smiles, to the highest of your hopes, to the windows of your opportunities and to the highest places your life has ever known," Meservey said. "Congratulations graduates."