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NFL Commissioner to Address UMass Lowell Commencement


Doris Kearns Goodwin and Richard Goodwin Among Honorary Degree Recipients, to Present Special Program

LOWELL, Mass. ߝ National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell will address graduates at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Commencement on Saturday, May 29 at 10 a.m. at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.

Goodell also will accept a posthumous Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his father, the late U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell, a Republican who was elected to Congress in 1959 and appointed to the Senate following the assassination of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. He established a solid record on issues such as civil rights, the war on poverty and education.

“Roger Goodell is an inspirational role model who can share his personal story of working his way up from intern to leader of an organization that today oversees the diverse interests of the most successful sports league in the world,” said Chancellor Marty Meehan. “Our students will benefit from the examples set by Roger and his father, Charles, both of whom have led without compromising their beliefs.”

“I learned a lot from my father about the importance of acting on your values and doing what’s right, no matter what the pressure and opposition,” said Roger Goodell. “I welcome the opportunity to share with UMass Lowell graduates how the lessons I’ve learned from my father and leading the NFL can be applied to anything they pursue in life.”

Other Doctor of Humane Letters degree recipients include Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author; Richard N. Goodwin, presidential speechwriter and adviser to John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy; Gloria Ladson-Billings, pedagogical philosopher, scholar and educational author; and Alan P. Lightman, physicist, novelist and author of international bestseller “Einstein’s Dreams.”

In addition to appearing at Commencement, Goodell, the honorary degree recipients and Distinguished Alumna Bonnie Comley, ’81, award-winning Broadway producer, will speak at a Commencement Eve Celebration. The gala will benefit student scholarships, including new endowments in honor of Charles Goodell and Richard and Doris Kearns Goodwin, on Friday, May 28 at 6 p.m. at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center.  The celebration will be preceded by a 4 p.m. special event with the Goodwins ߝ “A Conversation with Doris & Dick.” Both events are open to the public.

Roger Goodell, who was named commissioner in 2006, began his NFL career in 1982 as a public relations intern in the New York league office ߝ a position he secured through an extensive letter-writing campaign to the NFL and each of its then 28 teams. Over the years, he held various positions with the league, including chief operating officer, where he took responsibility for the league’s football operations and officiating and supervised league business functions. He headed NFL Ventures, which oversees the league’s business units, including media properties, marketing and sales, stadium development and strategic planning. Goodell, a native of Jamestown, N.Y., graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., in 1981 with a degree in economics.

Charles Goodell, who opposed the Vietnam War, led the first anti-war march down Constitution Avenue, his arms linked with Coretta Scott King and George McGovern. He then became a target of the Nixon-Agnew “purge” during his re-election bid. Criticized by his own Republican Party as a radical liberal who was undercutting the president, Goodell lost his bid for re-election to Nixon-backed Republican James Buckley. He returned to practicing law and later founded his own firm in Washington, D.C. In 1976, his former House colleague, President Gerald Ford, appointed Goodell chairman of the Presidential Clemency Board, which reviewed more than 20,000 applications from Vietnam War resisters. 

UMass Lowell students who apply for a Goodell scholarship will write essays on the impact that Charles Goodell had on U.S. history.

Other Doctor of Humane Letters degree recipients will be:

  • Doris Kearns Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize in history for the bestseller, “No Ordinary Time ߝ Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.” She lectures around the world, and is often called upon by the media to comment upon and analyze presidential issues. She began her career in the Lyndon B. Johnson White House and subsequently became a scholar on the American presidency. She lives in Concord, Mass., with her husband Richard Goodwin.  
  • Richard Goodwin is an American playwright, author and professor who was an adviser and speechwriter to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Goodwin was the U.S. Supreme Court clerk involved in investigating the “Twenty-One” quiz show scandal that provided the story for the 1994 movie “Quiz Show” in which he is portrayed by actor Rob Morrow.
  • Gloria Ladson-Billings, the Kellner Family professor of urban education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducts research examining the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with African-American students. She is the author of critically acclaimed books, including “The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children” and “Crossing over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms.”
  • Alan Lightman is a physicist, novelist and essayist who won the 1996 Andrew Gemant Award of the American Institute of Physics for linking science and the humanities. As a physicist, Lightman has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of black holes, gravity and astrophysics.  His novel, “Einstein’s Dreams” was an international bestseller and has been translated into 30 languages. Lightman is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The university also will honor Bonnie Comley ’81 with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Comley is an independent entertainment professional who has produced, acted and written for theater, TV and film for almost 30 years. As vice president of Stellar Productions International, she produces Broadway shows that have included “Come Fly Away” and “All About Me.” She has received some of the entertainment world’s highest honors and awards, including a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, the Actors Fund Medal of Honor and an Ovation Award. She lives in New York City with her husband and business partner, Stewart F. Lane and their five children. Originally from Bedford, Mass., where her parents still reside, Comley is a member of the UMass Lowell’s Chancellor’s Advisory Council.

More than 2,000 students are expected to receive bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Following the ceremony at the Tsongas Center, individual colleges will host receptions for the graduates and their guests.

More information on the honorees and Commencement is available at

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UML offers its 13,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. .

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