MCLA Announces Keynote Speaker, Honorary Degree Recipients for 115th Commencement Exercises


NORTH ADAMS, MASS. - Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will celebrate its 115th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 17, beginning at 11 a.m., in the Amsler Campus Center Gymnasium.

This year's keynote speaker will be Dr. Charles F. Desmond, chair of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, educator, and community and civic leader, who will receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service.

Also receiving honorary degrees this year will be Lila Berle, a dedicated land conservationist, who will receive an honorary Doctor of Humanities; Michael Christopher '73, former president and chief operating officer for Legacy Banks, who will receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service; and Michael Conforti, director of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, who will receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts.

In recognition of their awards, the honorary degree recipients will have books placed in MCLA's Freel Library in their names.

President Mary K. Grant said she is pleased to recognize the achievements of these remarkable individuals, all of whom eagerly anticipate being part of this year's celebration.

"We look forward to hearing from Dr. Charles Desmond, who has dedicated his career to ensuring that Massachusetts' youth have access to a college education. We are honored to have him with us, along with Lila Berle, Michael Christopher and Michael Conforti," Grant said. "This year's honorees each have made so many important contributions to the Commonwealth and to Berkshire County. The exceptional work accomplished by these remarkable individuals mirrors the expectations we have for the Class of 2014, whose energy, enthusiasm and achievements we also will celebrate."

MCLA Board of Trustees Chair Tyler Fairbank also commended those who will be honored.

"Dr. Desmond's dedication to the educational success of  urban youth and his passionate belief in the liberal arts make him a great  choice as this year's keynote speaker," Fairbank said. "As an ecologist dedicated to the land conservation in this region, Lila Berle has worked to preserve the history of the Berkshires. Through his work with Legacy Bancorp, Michael Christopher was instrumental in transforming several of Berkshire County's key financial institutions. And, under the leadership of Michael Conforti, The Clark has flourished as it has expanded its campus to increase its cultural impact not only on the region, but the world."

Desmond was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick in September 2008 to the Board of Higher Education, and in December 2008, the Governor appointed him to serve as chair of that Board.

A Fulbright scholar, Desmond served from 2002 to 2009 as executive vice president of the Trefler Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving educational opportunities and success for Boston's urban youth. At Trefler, he provided managerial oversight, advocacy and leadership on behalf of the Foundation to strengthen partnerships with Boston Public Schools, and nourished collaborative initiatives between and among philanthropic institutions in order to enhance their impact on urban educational reform.

Prior to Trefler, Desmond worked for 30 years at the University of Massachusetts Boston, with a focus on student affairs and community collaboration. He was an associate chancellor for school/community collaboration, vice chancellor for student affairs, director of the Department of Pre-Freshman Programs and project director of College Preparatory Program/Upward Bound, among other positions. He also served as a guidance counselor at Northeastern University's African/American Institute, and in the Boston Public Schools.

Desmond is active in civic and community organizations. This includes service as president of AARP Massachusetts, and as a member of the review committee for the Broad Prize in Urban Education, Board of Governors for the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University, Brown University Design Group/Annenberg Institute for School Reform, and Cambridge College Board of Trustees. He was the co-chair and executive director of the Urban Educators Corps, and is a past president of the Massachusetts Educational Opportunity Association. In addition, he has been active with the American Council on Education, and the National Council of Educational Opportunity Associations, among other organizations.

Desmond earned his Ed.D. in instructional leadership from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a Bachelor of Science degree  in sociology from Northeastern University. He is a decorated veteran of the United States Army, as he received both the Silver and  the Bronze stars.

Berle is a lifelong ecologist and farmer. She is dedicated to land conservation in the region, particularly the preservation of historic homes and view sheds at cultural institutions. She has established conservation easements on 850 acres in Monument Valley and on Monument Mountain in the Southern Berkshires.

She has been profiled recently as a leader in the farm to table movement. She has been chairwoman and/or president of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Chesterwood, Edith Wharton Restoration, the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee and Simon's Rock. She serves on the boards of The Mount, Berkshire South Community Center and Sculpture Now.

She was the first woman to serve as senior warden at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where she has been an active member for more than 50 years. Farming and family are her passions. Pulling lambs, mowing and baling hay, are some of her favorite ways to spend a day. Berle has four children, 14 grandchildren and 800 sheep on the ground today. Lila's Farm is located at 8 Locust Road in Great Barrington.

Christopher, who retired in 2007, is the former president and chief operating officer for Legacy Banks. In 1993, he became the chief executive officer of the former Lenox Savings Bank, and in 1995 he was instrumental in forming The Trust Company of the Berkshires as a joint venture with the former City Savings Bank.

Again in 1999, Christopher was instrumental as Lenox Savings Bank and City Savings Bank came together to form Legacy Bancorp, the first multi-bank mutual holding company in the country. The banks themselves were merged in 1999, and the successor bank took on the new identity of Legacy Banks with Christopher as its president.

Subsequently, the original joint venture, The Trust Company, became the bank's investment management division, Legacy Portfolio Management. In 2005, Legacy Bancorp executed a successful initial public offering and became a public company, listed on NASDAQ as LEGC.

Prior to 1993, Christopher held positions in commercial lending and management with the former First Agricultural Bank, Bay Banks, and Multibank.

Christopher, a graduate of MCLA, serves on the Board of the MCLA Foundation. He attended numerous banking schools and courses over the course of his career. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, having served in Panama and Vietnam. In addition, he has served as a trustee and chairman of The Berkshire Museum, trustee and president of the Lenox Library, and he is a former director of Berkshire Health Systems.

Conforti has been the director of The Clark since 1994. Under Conforti's leadership, the Clark has expanded its collections as well as its special exhibition and research and academic programs.~ Conforti also oversaw the planning for The Clark's building expansion and the campus enhancement, which was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando.

Conforti is a trustee of the American Academy in Rome, the Association of Art Museum Directors, The National Committee for the History of Art and CIHA (the Comité International d'Histoire de l'Art).~ He teaches at Williams College and is a regular lecturer and author of articles on sculpture and the decorative arts, museum history and practice, as well as institutional and private collecting in their social and cultural context. 

For more information, go to commencement.