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Elms Selects Advocate for the Homeless as Commencement Speaker

CHICOPEE — Elms College announced that Dr. James O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at the 85th commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 21.

O’Connell’s lifelong dedication to helping the homeless fits with Elms College’s commitment to social justice. As commencement speaker, he will deliver an inspirational message to the class of 2016, reminding the graduates of their responsibility to create a better world.

“A special aspect of Dr. O’Connell’s life that makes his invitation particularly meaningful is that he was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield for eight years at St. Joseph’s Parish Grammar School in Newport, Rhode Island,” said Elms College President Sr. Mary Reap. “His life is a testament to the charism and mission of the sisters.”

Added O’Connell, “in so many ways, I am very much a product of the wonderful and devoted sisters who gave so much of themselves to ensure we had a foundation for living in today’s world. Needless to say, I cannot tell you how much this honor truly means to me.”

In 1985, he began full-time clinical work with homeless individuals as the founding physician of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, which aims to provide or ensure access to the highest-quality healthcare for all homeless men, women, and children in the Greater Boston area. The nonprofit program now serves more than 13,000 people each year in two hospital-based clinics and in more than 60 shelters and outreach sites in Boston.

Last year, O’Connell published Stories from the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor, a collection of stories and essays written during 30 years of caring for homeless people in Boston. The book illuminates the humanity and raw courage of those who struggle to survive — and find meaning and hope — while living on the streets.

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