LOWELL -- In the hours and days following the Boston Marathon bombing last month, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis relied on a lifetime of experiences and education -- inside the classroom and out -- to deal with the tragedy, he told University of Massachusetts Lowell graduates Saturday.
They, too, will learn lessons from others, including friends from high school and college and in the formative years of their careers, he said.
"You have had exceptional instructors during your time here at UMass Lowell, and I guarantee you that at some point in your lives, probably when you are completely not expecting it, you will hearken back to some pearl of wisdom that was imparted on you during one of your classes here," Davis said at the Tsongas Center.
"But your education never ends. Ever."
UMass Lowell handed out 3,169 diplomas -- the sixth year in a row in which it has set a record high for number of graduates, an achievement that received loud applause when mentioned by Chancellor Marty Meehan.
Among them were students like Esmeralda Lundy, a 30-year-old from Haiti now living in Lowell, who gave birth to a boy on April 19, weeks before her finals. She was due May 8 but she said she was relieved to have delivered early. She missed the final day of classes.
"It was very tiring," Lundy said in between photos with her family. "Especially at the end." A registered nurse, she earned her master's to become a nurse practitioner.
Meehan urged graduates to be involved in their community, keep in touch with professors and friends, and visit the college to see a concert, hockey game or check on how the campus has changed. He cited the university's increasing diversity, including students from 79 countries and a 24 percent rate of minority students.
"I am confident that you are ready, willing and able to offer your knowledge, skills and strengths to help solve society's challenges," Meehan said. "This commonwealth and indeed this country need you -- and I know you are ready." UMass President Robert Caret told graduates to be "active participants" in wherever the future takes them, and not to "just let every day happen."
Davis was Lowell police superintendent for 12 years, and began his career in the department in 1978 as a patrol officer. He said he took advantage of those he worked with early in his career to learn as much as he could from them.
"You need to approach every single day of your life as stepping out into a global classroom, an opportunity to take something new away from the interactions you have with your loved ones, with your friends, with your co-workers," Davis said.
Much of Davis' talk centered on last month's bombing. Davis was thrust into the spotlight and has testified before Congress about what authorities may have known about the suspects ahead of time. He mentioned the "Boston Strong" slogan and told graduates that they, too, can call themselves strong.
"All of you should proudly and loudly proclaim 'I am strong,' because, indeed, you are. I am confident that given the chance, all of you are capable of achieving greatness," Davis said. "So many of the nearly 80,000 alumni of this university are scattered to the four corners of the world, but many of them continue to give back to the place where they got their start, and they stand UMass Lowell Strong."
Graduates said Davis' message resonated with them. Greg Velleca of Andover said the idea that learning never stops will stick with him. "A lot of people think of this as the end, but it's just the beginning," Velleca said.
Monica Parks of Chelmsford said she felt a connection with Roseann Sdoia, the Dracut native who lost a leg in the bombing, which gave Davis' talk more meaning. The message that you never stop learning and that you often don't know what you've learned until you need it is something Parks said resonated with her.
UMass Lowell gave honorary degrees to Davis; Harish Hande, an alumnus and social entrepreneur; Nancy Donahue, a local philanthropist and arts advocate; Elisia and Mark Saab, university supporters and medical-device entrepreneurs; and Bernard Shapiro, a 1956 graduate who was given the distinguished alumni award.
A benefit event on Friday night at which graduates and alumni were honored raised $725,000 for scholarships, the university announced Saturday. It is a record high for the event and brings the total raised since the 2008 inaugural event $3 million.