Jodi Cardillo of Everett gets a kiss from her mother, Irene, before the faculty and student procession into the tent for Marian Court College graduation ceremonies in Swampscott yesterday.

SWAMPSCOTT — Rich Wilson has nearly been defeated by 65-foot waves. On an around-the-world travel, with broken ribs and crunched vertebrae, he struggled to find the strength deep within himself to go on.

Yesterday, he told Marian Court College students that sort of determination can serve them well no matter where their life takes them.

"Each time, I continued learning I could do more than I thought I could," he told students, some of whom may be entering the worst job market in years.

But some of what kept Wilson going through his adventures — including this year's Vendée Globe, a solo 121-day voyage that defeated most of the entrants — were supportive friends and even competitors. One sailor, Samantha Davies, had a "no crying" rule that other skippers found hard to follow.

"You have to have good friends to lean on in your difficult day," Wilson said.

Wilson told the 78 Marian Court graduates about Frenchman Michel Desjoyeaux, possibly the greatest sailor ever, who painstakingly offered detailed advice — in English — to his competitor Wilson before the Vendée Globe.

"The tradition of the sea is to go to the aid of a mariner," he said. "It's a tradition we would all do well to emulate on land."

He cited examples like Jean Le Cam, whose boat lost its keel bulb — its counterweight — and capsized off Cape Horn. Vincent Riou turned back to rescue his competitor. Riou steered his boat close, and again, and again. On the fourth try, Riou got Le Cam — and damaged his boat so badly that his mast collapsed the next day.

"He had sacrificed his own race, as defending champion, to save his friend," Wilson said.

Though Wilson's race ended more than two months ago, he is still recovering. In a reception after the graduation ceremony, he was trying to force his hands to open a bottle of water. Minutes later, he was encouraging a graduate: "Go get 'em. You go get them."

Wilson founded SitesAlive, an educational organization that reached about 250,000 children in a dozen countries during the Vendée Globe. Among them were plenty of students from Missouri, which Wilson noted is about as far away from saltwater as you can get. Wilson said he found what he loved only after exploring many paths, including a teaching stint in Boston, getting degrees from MIT and Harvard Business School, and work in Saudi Arabia.

Marian Court College President Ghazi Darkazalli said Wilson's lessons of determination and teamwork inspired everyone in the audience, but especially the graduates.

"It's really encouraging for our students to know if you try you will reach your goals," he said.

Some of Marian Court College's students keep inspiration close at hand. Frederica Martelly of Salem, a magna cum laude graduate, posed for pictures with about 15 relatives she plans to bring to many more graduations. She says she's getting her bachelor's next at Salem State College, then her law degree, then a master's and eventually a doctorate.

Asked if she worried about the economy, she instead cited the drive of her parents, Jean and Marie.

"I'm going to keep going, oh, yeah," she said to chuckles from her family. "With my parents pushing."

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