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‘An example of stewardship, integrity and honesty.’ Mike Dukakis celebrated by governors, Northeastern community

“I’ve never seen an impact such as yours. You’ve inspired young people and you still inspire them,” Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun told former Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Michael Dukakis speaks at Dukakis celebration.
Distinguished professor of political science emeritus Michael Dukakis speaks during a Northeastern symposium celebrating the former governor. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

As Massachusetts governor, Democratic presidential nominee and Northeastern University professor, Michael S. Dukakis has inspired countless Bay Staters, Americans and students over his decades of service. 

In a panel featuring three Massachusetts governors on Thursday on Northeastern’s Boston campus, it was clear that Dukakis has inspired his political successors as well.

“If I had to summarize in one word, what is the legacy of Mike Dukakis in politics and the United States? That one word is honesty,” former Gov. William Weld said. “He was an inspiration and is an inspiration to me now and was for his whole career through the presidential race. He just stood for being absolutely straight.”

Weld (governor from 1991-’97) and Deval Patrick (2007-’15) were joined by current Gov. Maura Healey at the EXP research complex to honor Dukakis, a distinguished professor of political science emeritus at Northeastern. 

The event convened past and present political leaders, academics and friends for panel discussions focused on different eras of Dukakis’ career — as the commonwealth’s governor from 1975-1979 and again from 1983-1991 when he oversaw the “Massachusetts Miracle,” to earning the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, to 29 years teaching and mentoring students in Northeastern’s classrooms. 

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun told Dukakis that his impact is unmatched in politics and higher education.

“I’ve never seen an impact such as yours,” Aoun said. “You’ve inspired young people and you still inspire them. You open doors for them. You made them realize that public service is a noble goal.”

The event culminated with a panel moderated by journalist Alison King in which the three governors reflected on Dukakis’ legacy. They shared poignant stories of Dukakis as a mentor and adviser to their own careers. 

Dukakis, for instance, was Weld’s first supervisor when the future Republican governor was in law school and working as a summer associate. Dukakis was also the recipient of Weld’s first Massachusetts political contribution in 1974.

“In a way I’ve come to think, in retrospect, that Michael and I might have been ideologically separated at birth,” Weld said. 

Meanwhile, Patrick met with Dukakis in advance of his successful gubernatorial run.

“It was (Dukakis) who taught me the word grassroots,” Patrick said. “He said you’re talking about a grassroots campaign. And it is about the power, frankly, of showing up and talking to people and listening to people.”

And Healey joined Dukakis and his wife Kitty on trips to residential homes for children on the autism spectrum and with intellectual and emotional disabilities in advance of her run for attorney general, a position she held from 2015-2023.

“This is something special about Mike Dukakis: he’s devoted so much of his life’s work to looking after those who are vulnerable,” Healey said. “He thought it was really important that I have a look at that home and what it does and the services it provides, and I was really moved by that.”

The governors also saw a role for Dukakis and his legacy in the current polarized political climate — comparing the grace with which Dukakis accepted his 1988 presidential defeat with the events following the 2020 election. 

Patrick said Dukakis was “an example of stewardship, integrity and honesty,” and said that he set a positive tone in the commonwealth and beyond. 

And Healey said that “everything Dukakis talked about, when he exemplified himself as a public servant in so many realms and when he continues to teach students here today, is exactly why we need Governor Dukakis in this moment.”

Not that the stories were all serious.

“We all talked about the tone he set; it’s also true he keeps an eye on us,” Patrick said as he recalled getting untold numbers of phone calls about trash that needed picking up. 

And Healey noted that Dukakis’ advice for her was to “pick good people” and, reflecting his long-favorite subject, “pay attention to
the T.” 

Throughout it all, the governors’ esteem for Dukakis shone through. 

“He continues to build and create a legacy as we sit here today,” Healey said. “I think Mike Dukakis has a legacy of building incredible teams: engaged, curious, team players who are all about advancing the public good — not ego, not self aggrandizement. 

“The legacy of Mike Dukakis is one that we all have to work day in and day out to live up to,” Healey continued.

And this esteem was shared by others who also contributed to the celebration.

Robert DeLeo, former speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and a university fellow for public life at Northeastern, praised Dukakis for his mentorship. 

“Your advice and counsel throughout the years has always been an A-plus with me,” DeLeo said.

Dukakis’ son John also shared a letter written in honor of the celebration.

“I’m proud to join the many distinguished guests gathered today at Northeastern University celebrating your remarkable lifetime of public service,” former President Bill Clinton wrote. “From affordable housing and health care to improvements in public transportation and the creation of hundreds of thousands of good jobs, you prove that smart government really can make a difference, a positive difference, in people’s lives.”

Our nation is better off because of your example,” Clinton’s letter continued. “And your impact will only continue to expand as your students continue to grow, lead and succeed.”

Dukakis was touched by the tributes.

“I’m very proud to be part of the Northeastern family — there’s really no place like it,” Dukakis said at the end of the ceremony. “Thank you for a wonderful day. I owe a lot to Northeastern.”