By From the Lowell Sun
By Matt Murphy
BOSTON -- U.S. Sen. John Kerry has been tapped to deliver this year's commencement speech at UMass Lowell, addressing the nearly 2,000 graduates and their families.
Kerry, a four-term senator from Massachusetts and the 2004 Democratic nominee for president, will be joined by five honorary degree recipients at the Tsongas Arena on Saturday, May 31.
"Senator Kerry is a national leader who recognizes the importance of investing in young Americans by ensuring they have access to an affordable college education," said Interim Provost Donald Pierson. "Our UMass Lowell community is pleased to have Senator Kerry speak to our graduates and join us to celebrate their accomplishments."
Chancellor Marty Meehan is also introducing a fundraising dinner the night before commencement to honor Kerry, the honorary degree recipients, distinguished alumni and student award winners.
Fresh off the fundraising success of his inauguration that netted $1 million for student scholarships, the $100-per-person dinner at the Allen House on South Campus will again be used to raise money for scholarships.
Civil-rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, gave last year's graduation address.
Kerry said he is honored to be asked to address the students, praising Meehan's leadership.
"UMass Lowell is on the move," he said. "From the school's world-renowned research capabilities to its growing financial base, this is a world-class institution that is the cornerstone of the economic engine of the Merrimack Valley."
This year's honorary degree recipients include:
* Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks Inc. As a member of the MIT Corp., Deshpande's contributions have helped fund MIT's Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.
* Charlayne Hunter-Gault, an award-winning broadcast journalist. Currently a special correspondent for National Public Radio, Hunter-Gault has also worked as NPR's chief Africa correspondent and Johannesburg bureau chief for CNN. She has won two Emmy awards and two Peabody awards.
* Mary Jo Leahey, the founder and benefactor of the Mary Jo Leahey High School Summer Band Camp. Leahey graduated in 1937 from the College of Music at the State Teacher's College of Lowell. Her one-week summer music program is for talented students with a passion for music.
* Gerald Martone, director of humanitarian affairs at the International Rescue Committee. A 1979 graduate from Lowell, Martone is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School for International and Public Affairs.
* Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard University, where he taught for 40 years. Wilson is the author of 25 books, including Human Nature, and The Ants, winning Pulitzer Prizes for both works.
In a change from previous years, all of the graduates will have their names read at the Tsongas Arena ceremony, with individual college receptions to be held after the main event.
To accommodate for this, the speaking program has been cut down, with the honorary degree recipients speaking the night before at the dinner.
"We're trying to create more of a commencement weekend atmosphere for the graduates and their families," said Patti McCafferty, chief public-affairs officer at UML.