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Freshmen, Frisbees take spotlight at UMass Lowell

By From the Lowell Sun

Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- "Wow," whispered UMass Lowell Dean of Students Larry Siegel, looking out over a sea of new faces packed into South Campus' Durgin Hall.

At 1,184 members strong, he was facing the largest freshman class in the university's recent history, a 10 percent increase over the previous year's enrollment.

Yesterday morning was the first time the majority of the class had been gathered together, at a ceremony marking the first in what university officials expect will become an annual tradition -- freshman convocation.

"It is an idea we had been kicking around for a few years, a great way to welcome freshmen to the school and let them know they are part of the university," said Associate Dean of Students Ann Marie Ciaraldi.

"The university truly changed my life, making me into someone who has been able to contribute to the communities I have served and the greater community," said Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch, an alumnus, before presenting the class with a proclamation from the city, welcoming them to Lowell.

As each of the university's academic deans was introduced, the new students in their departments were asked to rise, standing in solidarity with their deans before being ceremonially inducted into the class of 2010 and officially presented to Interim Chancellor David MacKenzie.

And then ... the Frisbees flew.

The morning's keynote speaker was a lanky, long-haired millionaire who tossed Frisbees out into the audience and looks more like a surfer dude than the head of a company that is expected to reach $80 million in sales this year. The compensation for his appearance? Five hundred pumpkins.

Bert Jacobs and his brother John, of Needham, began selling T-shirts out of the back of their van in 1989. They spent five years struggling, living off peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, looking for the spark they needed to make their company a success.

Business began booming once a smiley stick figure named "Jake" began appearing on their T-shirts along with the company's new moniker and simple message: "Life is good."

"People rallied behind what we were about because we had a fantastic foundation of optimism," said Jacobs, a graduate of Fitchburg State College. "Being an optimist is the most empowering thing you can do."

As their business grew, they received buyout offers and offers to take the company public. The brothers sat down over a beer and began to realize that, "maybe we wanted to do something more fulfilling than just collecting a pile of money."

The Jacobses took what would have been the company's advertising budget and began to plan two annual festivals to raise money for children's charities. In July, the Life is good Watermelon Festival, held on Boston Common, raised $201,326 for Project Joy, a program that helps children who are victims of abuse or violence to heal through healthy play.

At this October's Pumpkin Festival on Boston Common, held to raise funds for Camp Sunshine, a camp in Maine for children battling life-threatening illnesses, an attempt will be made to break the world record for the most lit jack-o-lanterns, hence Jacobs' request to be paid the sum of 500 pumpkins.

Jacobs left the newest members of the UMass Lowell community with a simple message: "Do what you like and like what you do."