Life and careers are unpredictable, but a person’s core values can offer guidance along the way, said Catherine D’Amato, who described her journey from theology student and would-be singer/songwriter to tireless advocate for the hungry in a commencement address to Sawyer Business School graduate degree candidates.

“Remember no matter what twist and turns your career takes, you can always make a difference in the community you live and work in,” said D’Amato, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Under her guidance, the organization’s food distribution has increased since 1995 from the equivalent of 6.6 million to more than 48 million healthy meals annually. Today, the organization is a $90 million charitable food business with 530 member agencies and distributes enough food to feed more than 140,000 people every month across eastern Massachusetts.

D’Amato’s path to becoming an advocate for food justice began when she was a child.

When a beggar came to the back door of her family’s restaurant “and begged for food in exchange for work…my father always taught us to say, no, you don’t have to work in order to eat. Please come in, sit down, have something to eat. And we fed them. And it was a standard meal. It was always a bowl of soup, bread and crackers, a glass of milk or coffee or pie or a dessert of their choice,” said D’Amato.

“My father’s devout faith and respect for human dignity would teach me a commitment to social justice and to helping others. It was this very small childhood impression that solidified my pathway and led me to believe even as a child that food is a basic right. It’s a basic human right and everyone has a role in ending hunger. The other lessons I absorbed from my parents were how to run a profitable business, how to save time and energy, how to contribute to my community.”

D’Amato advised the graduates to be authentic, to take advantage of opportunities, and “to go get it — whatever your ‘it’ is.”

“Whatever your passion, your ambition, your dream, it could be that job, it could be that person, it could be that car. Go out and get it. And have a game plan.”

D’Amato left the graduates with a song, a Native American prayer that she set to music.

In the hours of my life there I wander
In the hours of my happiness I wander
Beauty before me
Beauty behind me
Beauty below me
All around me

“You’re beautiful. Go get it.”

The University awarded D’Amato an honorary doctor of public service degree in 2013.

The Sawyer Business School Class awarded 366 master’s degrees to the Class of 2017 as Suffolk University conveyed a total of 2,029 undergraduate and advanced degrees during weekend ceremonies.

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