Used with permission from the Eagle Tribune Online.
By Camille Ducey
LOWELL -- In a year darkened by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, speakers at yesterday's University of Massachusetts Lowell commencement focused on hope for the future.
Class President Colleen Brady, 22, asked the 1,500 graduates to remember lessons in diversity and acceptance of others.
"We've seen the effects of hate in terrorist attacks," Brady told the gathering of more than 12,000 people who packed Tsongas Arena.
Keynote speaker Dr. Arthur Levine, president of education for the Teachers College at Columbia University, said he was encouraged by a recent survey of college students who said they were optimistic about the future.
But Levine, who also served as president of the former Bradford College in Haverhill, said many students expressed a distrust of the country's social and political institutions and wanted reform.
"You can make a better future than there is at present," he said. "Making a difference is your birth right."
Yet he urged students to pursue their dreams.
"Not everyone can be president," he said. "It's possible to do the things you want to do."
Valedictorian Harmander S. Gill of Toronto, who did not make a formal presentation, told The Eagle-Tribune that graduates are facing challenging times, but still have to look to the future.
"We have to ignore the detrimental effects of terrorists and fasten unity among everyone," he said.
The 26-year-old biological science and math major, who plans to become a family doctor, received the university's highest Trustees' Key award, earning a perfect 4.0 grade point average for four consecutive years.
For many, yesterday's ceremony marked the end of four years of hard work and challenges.
Pelham, N.H., fine arts graduate Michelle D. Cambrils, 24, plans to take a year off before going on to graduate school. Her goal is to work in the field of higher education.
"This is the light at the end of the tunnel," said Cambrils who has been working part-time as a preschool teacher and an Army reservist.
She said if she could change anything from the past four years, she would have been more efficient.
"I would have studied harder -- got more grants and loans and wouldn't have procrastinated so much," she said.
She said without her bachelor's degree, she knows she wouldn't have gotten a teaching job.
Zachary C. Bergeron, 21, of Methuen, said the educational experience at UMass was perfect for him.
The civil engineering major said he always had an interest in building and wants to work in construction. He may return to the Lowell college for his graduate program, he said.
Brady, the class president, has different plans. She hopes to go to law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Despite her political science and criminal justice studies, she said she may become an entertainment lawyer.
"I don't want to be average," she said. "I've always strived to be different."