Media contacts: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu
LOWELL, Mass. – Political analyst Steve Kornacki and civil-rights activist and educator Freeman Hrabowski III today addressed UMass Lowell’s 10th consecutive record graduating class – 3,970, up 2,000 graduates from 2008 – at Commencement ceremonies at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.
“This is an institution that reflects the best of America,” said Hrabowski, calling UMass Lowell “one of the most talked-about institutions in the country” because of the strength of the programs and resources, from faculty to facilities, the university offers students. Hrabowski, who addressed the second of two Commencement ceremonies, called on graduates to make sure that whatever they go on to do helps other people. “My message to you is that the way you think about yourselves, the language that you use, the way you interact with each other and the values that you hold are so important. You become the things you love.”
Hrabowski – who has been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and among U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Leaders – is the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Hrabowski, whose civil rights activism as a teen was featured in a Spike Lee documentary, was named chairman of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans by Barack Obama and served on the National Academies’ committee that produced the report, “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads.” Hrabowski, who attended Hampton University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, serves as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and universities and school systems nationwide and has authored numerous articles and two books, including “Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement.”
During his Commencement address, Kornacki told the Class of 2017 about his own uncertainty after graduating and how, when he needed help making a critical decision about his future – whether to take a job that offered stability or to take a chance as a political reporter for a new website – he turned to his faculty mentor, a former journalist who had also worked on two of Paul Tsongas’ campaigns for Congress named Lou Barlow, for advice. Describing the two career opportunities to Barlow, Kornacki said his mentor pointed out that Kornacki was smiling and excited as he spoke about the riskier career option, a job reporting politics in New Jersey that ultimately led to his career covering politics for media including NBC News and MSNBC. Kornacki dubbed it the Lou Barlow test.
“There are two thing that I wish for you in your life,” Kornacki told graduates. “No. 1, that you have a Lou Barlow in your life. And No. 2, that you follow the Lou Barlow test.”
Kornacki, who took courses at UMass Lowell as a high school student, was named this week as NBC and MSNBC national political correspondent. He provided analysis of the 2016 presidential race on the “Today” show and “MSNBC Live” and other political news of the day. His election coverage included polls by UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion in New Hampshire and the national survey of millennials that found nearly a quarter would have rather seen Earth hit by a giant meteor than vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Kornacki, a native of nearby Groton who graduated from Boston University, has also covered political news for Roll Call and Salon, and has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Boston Globe and other publications.
UMass Lowell’s Class of 2017 received their degrees – bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates – at two ceremonies at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell to accommodate the 3,970 graduates, more than double the total 10 years ago, reflecting UMass Lowell’s 53 percent enrollment growth and climbing student success rates.
UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, a two-time graduate of UMass Lowell and the first woman to lead the university, presided over both ceremonies.
“Congratulations River Hawks, you’ve made it! You have overcome challenges and turned them into opportunities to make the world a better place,” Moloney told graduates, noting examples of their work including using 3-D printers to create prosthetic hands for children, designing and building a satellite for NASA and talking strategy with renowned investor Warren Buffett. “Whether on campus, in the community, or during studies abroad, you have advanced our society and improved the lives of the people you touched. And in your spare time, you helped us drive the dramatic transformation of this university.”
Moloney cited UMass Lowell’s second-fastest rise in the U.S. News & World Report rankings to reach No. 78 among top public institutions in the nation and its No. 1 ranking among New England research institutions for graduates’ return on their investment.
Nearly 1,200 members of UMass Lowell’s Class of 2017 graduated today with honors, including 93 with 4.0 grade-point averages.
“One of the things we are most proud of is how you came together to form a diverse community that demands fairness, equality and inclusivity, a campus where every person, from every background, is welcomed and treated with respect,” said Moloney. “I look forward to hearing about the great achievements of the Class of 2017 in the years ahead, as I know there will be many of them. You have been a gift to us and now you are our gift to the world.”
“The education that you’ve received will provide you with the foundation for anything you seek to achieve in your life,” said UMass President Marty Meehan, who is a graduate of UMass Lowell. “I sat where you are sitting right now and there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”
The student Commencement address at the morning ceremony was delivered by Adeja Crearer of Piscataway, N.J., who received her bachelor’s degree in English.
“After years of classes, research, experiential learning and personal development, we are now ready to graduate. We have had internships, fellowships and co-ops that kindled our passion for learning and gave us hands-on experience and memories. Not to mention hockey championships, spring carnivals and other involvement on campus that will make us River Hawks forever,” said Crearer, adding that UMass Lowell gave the Class of 2017 the resources they needed to excel. “It is important that we never forget where we came from, how hard we worked to be here today, nor who we are…I hope that after your time at UMass Lowell, you have learned more about yourself than ever before, because I have.”
Solomon Ugbane of Lowell, originally from Nigeria, who began his career at UMass Lowell as an undergraduate and today received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering, delivered the student address at the afternoon ceremony.
“Coming to UMass Lowell as a freshman international student…I had to adapt to a new way of life, become acclimatized to the university, the city and the people. The welcoming atmosphere and the wonderful people I met made it possible for me to learn about my new home quickly. My experiences at UMass Lowell have taught me a lesson I will never forget: persistence and determination will lead to success,” said Ugbane. “Over our time here, we have watched UMass Lowell transform itself into a highly respected, world-class research institution. This should remind us to value our UMass Lowell experience along our career and life path...Never underestimate what you, as an educated individual, can do.”
The class gift was presented by Charlene Clerveau of Billerica, senior class president. Participants in the ceremonies also included members of the UMass Board of Trustees Mary Burns, Robert Epstein and Philip Johnston, and UMass Lowell student trustee Malinda Reed of Lowell; state Rep. Rady Mom; Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian; Lowell Mayor Edward Kennedy; Lowell City Councilor John Leahy; the UMass Lowell Brass Choir; UMass Lowell Chamber Singers; the UMass Lowell Army and Air Force ROTC Color Guard; and Kevin Barry Irish American Pipes and Drums.
In addition to Kornacki and Hrabowski, UMass Lowell recognized the following with honorary doctorates of humane letters:
• Francis Spinola ’66 and Mary Jo (Roberto) Spinola ’66, civic leaders and philanthropists who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. Frank Spinola, who earned a degree in chemical engineering at UMass Lowell predecessor Lowell Technological Institute, is a leader in industry whose career included serving as vice president and general manager of Koppers Co., and leading INDSPEC Chemical Corp., for 11 years. Mary Jo Spinola graduated from the State Teachers College at Lowell, another of UMass Lowell’s predecessor institutions, and went on to work as a teacher until devoting herself full-time to raising the couple’s two children. The Spinolas, residents of Longboat Key, Fla., have together been generous supporters of the university, including endowing a scholarship, underwriting the renovation of the gallery at the university’s historic Allen House and sponsoring the annual DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge competition for students.
• Steven Chu, Nobel laureate and former U.S. secretary of energy, who was presented with an honorary degree at a ceremony in November 2016 when he delivered the university’s annual Tripathy Memorial Lecture. As the nation’s longest-serving energy secretary, Chu launched several initiatives supporting research and innovation, particularly in the area of clean energy, and helped BP end the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Chu, a Ph.D. in physics who holds 11 patents, is the former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and led the Quantum Electronics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories, as well as serving on the faculty of the University of California, Berkley and Stanford University.
The Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Edward “Ned” Barrett ’58 of Naples, Fla., for his lifelong dedication to education as a teacher and school administrator, in educational publishing with companies including Prentice Hall, Addison-Wesley and Pearson Education, and in establishing a scholarship in his mother’s name to benefit nontraditional students. Barrett had the rare opportunity to share the stage at his graduation from the State Teachers College at Lowell with his mother, who had returned to earn her bachelor’s degree. Barrett – who holds master’s degrees from Salem State University and Suffolk University – is the chairman of the UMass Lowell College of Education Advisory Board and serves on the committee overseeing the university’s “Our Legacy, Our Place” campaign, which has raised more than $90 million toward its $125 million goal.
The honorary degree and alumni award recipients were recognized along with top student award winners at the Commencement Eve Celebration on Friday, May 12 at the University Crossing student center. The annual fundraiser for scholarships attracted more than $100,000 in donations this year and since it was first held in 2008 has generated millions of dollars to benefit students.
The university presented an unprecedented five Trustees Keys to graduates in recognition of the perfect 4.0 grade-point averages they maintained over all eight semesters at UMass Lowell. The recipients are Jason Plumer of Byfield, a mechanical engineering major; Marissa Pond of Haverhill, an exercise physiology major; Matthew Rzemien of Cumberland, R.I., a clinical lab sciences major; Stephanie Tran of Chelmsford, a biology major; and Joshua Zubricki of Gloucester, a plastics engineering major.
In addition, each Trustees Key recipient was honored with the Chancellor’s Medal for Academic Achievement, which recognizes the top undergraduate achievers in each of the university’s schools and colleges, as well as its Division of Online and Continuing Education. Academic medals were awarded to: political science majors James Christopher of Peabody and Martin Winter of Lake Oswego, Ore., and liberal arts majors Emily Catanzano of Billerica and Patricia Burris of Lowell for College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Pond and Rzemien for the College of Health Sciences; Plumer and Zubricki for the Francis College of Engineering; Tran for the Kennedy College of Sciences; and liberal arts majors Abigail Koljonen of Great Falls, Mont., and Nicole Nesbit of Ware for the Division of Online and Continuing Education.
UMass Lowell awarded the Chancellor’s Medals for Diversity and Inclusion to Lowell residents Jose Molina, a political science major; Diana Santana, who received a bachelor of liberal arts degree and Selena Tran, a psychology major.
The Chancellor’s Medal for Student Service was presented to Shannon Arruda of New Bedford, a nursing major; Jacqueline Cao of Leominster, a world languages and culture major; Michaela Fitzgerald of Dracut, a civil engineering major; Sabrina Pedersen of Burlington, a biology major; Marlon Pitter of West Hartford, Conn., an English major; and Jacob Record of Lowell, a public health major.
The University Medal for Community Service was presented to James Aung of Lowell, an economics major; Kristin Bartone of Winthrop, a civil engineering major; Georgia Cowderoy of Ashmore, Queensland, Australia, an economics major; Allison Dunbar of Franklin, an exercise physiology major; Ashley Hillson of Dracut, a management major; and Zarif Farhana Mohd Aris of Arlington, who received a Ph.D. in plastics engineering.
The University Scholar-Athlete Award was given to Jaclyn Solimine of Haverhill, a member of the women’s cross country and track and field teams who received her degree in mechanical engineering.
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 17,500 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, 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.