The Conway School extends a warm welcome to Alex B. Morse, Mayor of the City of Holyoke, as the commencement speaker for the school’s 47th commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 22, 2019.

Mayor Alex B. Morse at Lyman Terrace in Holyoke. Photo: Abmorse [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Before his fellow classmates had begun preparing for life following college graduation, Alex B. Morse was actively planning a role in public service—one that would build on his efforts as an advocate uplifting community voices and supporting human rights, especially of the LGBTQ community. At the age of twenty-two, while completing his senior year at Brown University, Alex announced his candidacy for the 2011 mayoral race for the City of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Against considerable political odds, Alex was confident his clear record of activism and community organizing would more than demonstrate his commitment to democratic values, and bring a fresh perspective to city governance. He considered his youth—something his opponents regularly called into question during the mayoral race—as an asset. Friends and classmates humorously commented that even in high school Alex was dedicated and diligent; “when he was eighteen, he was eighteen going on forty.”

Alex Morse’s run for public office emerged from critical experiences as a young member of Holyoke’s diverse community. As a student at Holyoke High School, Alex was elected president of a city-wide youth commission, founded its first ever Gay-Straight Alliance, and helped to launch the annual Western Mass Youth Pride Prom where he acted as the school’s representative. A firm belief that grassroots organizing is critical to positive individual and community development helped him form and lead these early efforts. He continued to affirm these values though his work in student activism while attending the Urban Studies program at Brown, and as an aide to now-US Representative David N. Cicilline from Providence, Rhode Island. Running for Mayor of Holyoke was a natural decision in order to bring forward his vision and experience to public office and the community. His staunch commitment was further demonstrated by weekly trips between Providence and Holyoke and many late nights with voters during the 2011 campaign.

After an extremely close primary vote, and following an animated and contentious campaign, Alex B. Morse was elected mayor of Holyoke—eighty-three days before his twenty-third birthday. Alex began work immediately, striving to create an open, inclusive, and prosperous Holyoke and leveraging its unique infrastructure and renewable energy, historical legacy, and most critically its cultural diversity. Since he took office, Holyoke has experienced an economic rebirth and investment including the opening of an Innovation District, the Gateway City Arts, and Holyoke Community College Culinary Arts Program; the growth of small businesses and start-ups under the SPARK program; and an expansion of residential and commercial developments occupying the once-shuttered paper mills that dominate the city’s skyline. As mayor, he has called for reaching beyond the goals of state and even federal leaders, pledging as a “climate mayor” to abide by the goals of the Paris Climate Accord and committing Holyoke to becoming a carbon-neutral community.

Despite the grand impression he may often carry as a result of his seemingly-meteoric rise, Mayor Morse has not lost sight of his office’s commitment to the community of Holyoke. Focusing on the preservation of community as an identity and reflection of its people and the place they inhabit is critical in understanding the significance of the role and responsibilities he, as mayor, is entrusted with. Alex carries this sentiment into each decision, meeting, and public event he attends, and despite the challenges of leadership, knows the positives always outweigh the negatives. One thing he’ll make clear is that as a successful mayor and leader, “act with an open mind, don’t start by digging in your heels.” The Conway School of Landscape Design is thrilled to invite Mayor Morse to its 47th Commencement.

During the ceremony, the thirteen members of the class of 2019 will present each other with a Master of Science diploma from Conway’s intensive, ten-month graduate program in sustainable landscape planning and design. Typically diverse in academic backgrounds and ages, members of the class of 2019 represent nine states:

The members of the graduating class of 2019 are Martha Wills Abbott (Washington D.C.), Caitlin O’Neil Broman (Rochester, NY), Bo Guyer Carpen (Alexandria, VA), Lili Elena (Rockland, ME), Kristen Leigh Gessinger (Northampton, MA), Eric N. Giordano (Andover, MA), Amanda Marie Hawes (Portland, ME), Lisa Jeanne Krause (Wayne IL), Aja Rose Mathews (Palo Alto, CA), Greta Moore (Bozeman, MT), Mary Sage C. Napolitan (West Tisbury, MA), Mallory Morgan Rasky (Buffalo Grove, IL), and Robbe Verhofste (Cumming, IA).

The Conway School’s graduate program in landscape design and planning equips students with a Master of Science in Ecological Design in ten months. Students work on real projects for real clients, learning an effective, practical design process rooted in ecological thinking. Through Conway’s intimate, intensive, and collaborative environment, students gain the skills they need to address complex environmental and social challenges, such as water quality, climate resiliency, food access and security, habitat connectivity, and environmental justice.