Commencement Speaker Brian Skerry ’84 Urges Graduates to ‘Find a Perfect Pebble’

May 18, 2021
By: Guest Contributor


Acclaimed underwater photographer Brian Skerry ’84 advised Worcester State University graduates to appreciate the small things that bring them joy because those moments will create the strongest threads in their tapestry of life.

“I have no magic formula that I can share with you for achieving your professional dreams, no treasure map that you can follow where an X marks the spot where you’ll find the gold. But I can tell you with certainty that our time here is finite, and how you choose to spend it will determine the quality of your life,” said Skerry during Worcester State’s 145th Commencement Ceremony, part of which was conducted virtually for the second year in a row due to pandemic restrictions. [See a slideshow of the Campus Commencement Experience, held May 13-15.]

“Thirty years from today, 40 or 50 years from now, what do you want your tapestry to look like, what do you want it to show? The story it tells will be a blend of threads that you sewed together, and it will represent your priorities and the things you valued most,” he said. “If I had only one wish for you here today it would be that the tapestry you create is one that is rich and meaningful; cherished memories revealed through patterns and pictures connected by the strongest of threads.”

Skerry has worked as a photographer for National Geographic Magazine since 1998 and has won many awards, including the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 11 times. He is the author of 11 books, and his work was recently featured in the Disney+ original series “Secrets of the Whales.” In addition to being the Commencement speaker, Skerry received an honorary degree for recognition of his outstanding achievements in photography, exploration, and environmental conservation.

Skerry said that despite his many successes, it took years of perseverance for him to achieve his dream job at National Geographic, noting he worked as an assistant manager at a Cumberland Farms and in corporate sales while working on his craft on weekends and days off until his early 30s.

“And then, one day, things began to fall into place. I was finally given my first assignment and worked my tail off to make it a success. I think about those days often, trying to remember exactly how it happened. I wonder if maybe I’m forgetting about a magic lamp that I found on a beach that granted me a wish or forgot about the time I was visited by my fairy godmother. But I think I’d remember those things. Maybe the reason why things fell into place for me is because I followed my dream probably longer than most and didn’t give up,” he said.

Skerry related to the graduates an important lesson he learned from photographing a population of beluga whales, a group that travels hundreds of miles from the waters off Greenland through the Canadian arctic to a summer breeding ground he calls “Beluga Beach.” He observed the belugas like to play a game where one will find a pretty pebble, carry it through the three-foot-deep water, and then drop it for another beluga to pick up in a game of “Pass the Pebble.”

“Like us, their daily lives are busy and challenging. They have to catch food, take care of their children, deal with social situations, where no doubt conflicts occur—I’m sure there are gossipy belugas that can be especially annoying. And they have to face predators and serious threats every day. Yet, they still make time to play. They find a perfect pebble and carry it around because it makes them happy,” said Skerry.

“Every now and then, find a perfect pebble—in the midst of your otherwise busy day—and carry it around with you for a while and let it make you happy. My guess is that decades from now, those pebbles will be what you cherish the most.”

In his remarks, President Barry M. Maloney congratulated the graduates on their perseverance, noting that this particular skill will be valuable in their next stage of life.

“You have passed through the pandemic’s fire; you have forged some body armor, maybe even Beskar steel armor, and you have exhibited qualities that others say got them through their life struggles,” said Maloney. “Take what you’ve learned during your Worcester State career and take all you’ve learned during the pandemic. Bring your endurance and persistence, your courage, your creative energy—as well as your bachelor’s degree—to your workplaces, and also bring them to your communities and your lives, as we forge the path forward.”

Theodora Pappoe ’21, chairperson of the 2021 Class Committee, also congratulated her fellow graduates for making it through a difficult end to their undergraduate years.

“Even though we did not get the chance to have the graduation that we wanted, I am very proud of the Class of 2021 for sticking together and empowering one another through the tough times. Take a second and pat yourselves on the back for coming this far. I am not going to stand here and say life is going to be like flowers and rainbows. We are now entering into the real world, and those tears we shed may even get worse, but remember—we got through our final days at Woo State amidst a pandemic. We got this,” said Pappoe.

To see the entire virtual Commencement ceremony, including remarks from other members of the Worcester State community and the names of more than 1,000 graduates, visit





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