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U.S. Secretary of Interior Headlines UMass Lowell Commencement

University Breaks Record for Number of Graduates for Fifth Year in a Row

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar


Contacts:  Christine Gillette, 978-758-4664 (c), 978-934-2209 (w) or
                Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or

LOWELL, Mass. – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today addressed graduates at UMass Lowell’s 2012 Commencement. For the fifth year in a row, a record number of graduates – 2,900 – were awarded diplomas at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.

The Class of 2012 includes eight students with perfect 4.0 grade point averages and residents of 39 states and 69 nations. Thirty-six percent are graduating with honors.

In his remarks to graduates, Salazar paid tribute to his parents’ push to ensure he and his seven siblings got college educations. Salazar is the 50th secretary of the Department of the Interior, which works to protect the nation’s lands, wildlife, history and culture, and oversees the national park system, including Lowell National Historical Park. 

“Although we were poor, my parents taught us that we were rich in spirit and in promise. My parents instilled in each of us the value of education. My father would often tell us that he couldn’t leave us a legacy of material things, but what he and my mom could do was make sure we received a good education. He would say that he preferred it that way because no one could ever take your education away,” said Salazar, who called on Congress to address the issue of college affordability by preventing the interest rate increase on student loans scheduled to take effect July 1.

Salazar praised the cooperation between the university, city of Lowell and Lowell National Historical Park, calling them “great examples for all the rest of America.” “The world should see what they’re doing in Lowell,” said Salazar. In calling on graduates to “seek to leave the next generation in a better place,” Salazar evoked the legacy of Lowell’s native son, the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, who spurred the renaissance of his community. Read Salazar's speech.

UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan presided over the ceremony, the first of two held to accommodate the large number of graduates and their families. UMass Lowell has seen the number of graduates at the last five Commencements increase by hundreds each year. That is a reflection of rising retention and graduation rates, as well as enrollment growth.

The Class of 2012 has seen global conflict, economic turmoil and other issues unfold during their years in college, Meehan told the graduates, “but by completing the education we’re celebrating today, you are in a far better position to not only support yourselves, but also to help forge the solutions we desperately need in today’s world. I am confident that you are ready, willing and able to offer your skills and strengths to help solve society’s challenges. This commonwealth and this country need you.”

For the conferral of his honorary degree, Salazar was introduced to graduates by U.S. Rep. Edward Markey and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas. Tsongas nominated Salazar for the honor. In addition to Salazar, the following outstanding individuals were recognized with honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees:

Retired Rear Adm. Susan J. Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.A., a medical expert at the forefront of advancing women’s health, addressing emerging health threats like bioterrorism and obesity, and in fighting AIDS and violence. She is a pioneer in raising awareness about women’s health-care issues. She served as U.S. assistant surgeon general, senior global and e-health adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services and as White House health adviser. She serves as director of the Health and Medicine Program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress and as a senior policy and medical adviser at amFAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. 

Robert S. Ward ’71, chairman of Emergence Venture Partners, LLC, a Berkeley, Calif.-based venture capital company that applies cutting-edge biomaterials technology to developing medical devices. Materials and components developed and manufactured under Ward’s direction have been used in hundreds of devices, including vascular grafts, stents, pacemakers and orthopedic implants. Ward, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at UMass Lowell, holds many patents and established the world’s first commercial manufacturing process for the artificial heart. He and his wife Gail recently committed more than $1 million to support university initiatives, including a professorship in biomedical materials development; the Robert and Gail Ward Biomedical Materials Laboratory in the new Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center; and an endowed scholarship fund for engineering students.

The Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to John Pulichino ’67, chief executive officer of Group III International Ltd. of Florida, which designs, manufactures and markets travel gear products under the Wenger Swiss Army Knife trademark and numerous private-label brands. Pulichino also served as director of industrial engineering at Polaroid Corp. and president and CEO of American Tourister. Pulichino, who earned a degree in industrial management at UMass Lowell, and his wife and business partner, Joy Tong, recently established a $4 million endowed scholarship fund for students in UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business. The university’s new business school building will be named in their honor.

James Tarr of Methuen, a graduating senior and student member of the UMass Board of Trustees, introduced student speaker Bonie Rosario Jr. of Brockton, a computer engineering major who will continue on at UMass Lowell this fall for a Master of Science in Innovation and Technological Entrepreneurship. Rosario, a first-generation college student whose work with UMass Lowell’s Assistive Technology Program inspired his plans to start his own business in the field, told fellow graduates that regardless of academic discipline, it is their responsibility to put that knowledge into action to solve society’s problems with determination and creativity. 

“It is because of our experiences here at UMass Lowell that our academic degrees are more than just credentials for our resumes; instead, our world-class UMass Lowell education serves as a genuine descriptor of who we are, and how capable we are of making the world a better place. I wholeheartedly believe that each and every one of us here today has the potential to find a goal worth pursuing and to make a lasting impression on society. Why? Because we are River Hawks: Work-ready, life-ready, world-ready,” said Rosario, who, following his speech, introduced Senior Class President Abiola Sonuga of Haverhill for the presentation of the senior class gift.

UMass President Robert Caret also addressed the Class of 2012, welcoming them to “UMass Nation,” the 260,000 graduates of the system who live and work in the Commonwealth and the 450,000 around the world. 

“UMass Lowell grads are rightfully proud of their campus and you have the good fortune of forever being associated with this great institution,” Caret said. “UMass alumni have helped change the world from every conceivable perspective and now you will have that same opportunity to change Massachusetts, our country and the world. Recognize what a powerful force you are – and how critically important the contributions you make will be.”

Other participants in the ceremony included state Sen. Eileen Donoghue; Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian; UMass Trustees Richard Campbell, Zoila Gomez ’00 and R. Norman Peters; UMass Lowell Executive Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney; and UMass Lowell Provost Ahmed Abdelal. Members of the Air Force Reserve Training Corps presented the colors and graduates Michael Coelho of Westport, a music studies major, and Britney Holbert of North Attleboro, a music business major, sang the national anthem. Other music was performed by the UMass Lowell Brass Choir and the Kevin Barry Irish American Pipes and Drums. The event included recognition of the 50th reunions of the Classes of 1962 of Lowell State College and Lowell Technological Institute, UMass Lowell’s predecessor institutions.

The graduate Commencement ceremony held in the afternoon featured former UMass President Jack Wilson, now a faculty member in UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business, as speaker, and greetings from state Rep. Thomas Golden, a UMass Lowell alumnus. Jessica Huizenga of Burlington, who received her doctorate from the Graduate School of Education and the Outstanding Education Research Award, served as the student speaker. Huizenga, a married mother of three, works as an assistant superintendent in the Freetown-Lakeville Regional Schools. The ceremony included the first presentation of Professional Science Master’s Degrees – which emphasize essential professional skills without requiring a thesis – to UMass Lowell graduates. 

Top student award winners were recognized at the Commencement Eve Celebration on Friday, May 25, which raised a record-breaking $700,000 for student scholarships. Co-valedictorians Christian Elwood of Groton, a business administration major, and Anthony Fill of Littleton, a mechanical engineering major, both received the Trustees Key for completing all four years of undergraduate study at the university with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Elwood, who was president of the UMass Lowell Student Veterans Organization, also received the Chancellor’s Medal for Academic Achievement for the Manning School of Business and Fill, a member of the UMass Lowell Concert Band, received the medal for the Francis College of Engineering.

Chancellor’s Medals for Academic Achievement were also awarded to Tyson Streich of Framingham, a criminal justice major (College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences); Neha Bhatia of Westford, biology, and Mikhail Lomakin of Groton, atmospheric science (College of Sciences); Hollie Letendre of Dracut, exercise physiology (School of Health and Environment); and Wendy Massey of Hawley, Texas, Demetrios Costoyiannis of New York and Nicholas Grand Glazer of Ann Arbor, Mich., all information technology majors (Division of Online and Continuing Education). The University Scholar-Athlete Award went to Hannah Merullo of Wakefield, a criminal justice major and member of the women’s soccer team.

The Chancellor’s Medal for Student Service was awarded to Marck-Arthur Clerveau of Billerica, an electrical engineering major; Amy Delgado of Bridgewater, community health; Janelle Diaz of Woburn, psychology; Analissa Iverson of Acton, sociology; Cynthia Mitchell of Tyngsboro, mechanical engineering; and Ashley Tello of Dracut, psychology. The University Medal for Community Service winners were Merrytime Ebhohon of Lowell, electrical engineering; Abhishek Kumar of Lowell, physics; Darryl Parker of Charlotte, N.C., information technology; Timothy Phamduy of Lowell, biology; Brendan Riley of Lowell, health informatics and management; and Reynaldo Santana of Methuen, business administration.

UMass Lowell is a comprehensive, national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 15,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, engineering, education, fine arts, health and environment, humanities, liberal arts, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.