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Pulitzer Winner, Congresswoman to Address Class of 2018

Author Jon Meacham, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas to Speak at UMass Lowell Commencement Ceremonies May 19

Pultizer Prize winner Jon Meacham
Presidential historian and author Jon Meacham, along with U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, will address the UMass Lowell's Class of 2018.


Contacts for media: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell will celebrate Commencement 2018 with ceremonies on Saturday, May 19 featuring addresses by a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and a pioneering woman in Congress, and with the renaming of one of its buildings on Friday, May 18.

Jon Meacham – presidential historian and author of bestsellers including “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” and “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for biography – will deliver the Commencement address and receive an honorary degree at the first of two ceremonies on Saturday, May 19.

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, who became the first woman in 25 years to represent Massachusetts in Congress when she was elected in 2007, will be presented with the Chancellor’s Medal in recognition of her tireless work for her district, which includes the university. Tsongas, who is leaving office at the end of her current term, will deliver the Commencement address at the second ceremony on May 19.

Meacham is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the Society of American Historians. A former editor with Random House and Newsweek, he is a contributor to Time and The New York Times Book Review. In addition to Jefferson and Jackson, the subjects of his books have included George H.W. Bush, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and James and Dolley Madison. His latest book, “The Soul of America: The Battle of Our Better Angels,” scheduled for release just days before Commencement, looks to history for hope and understanding of the nation’s political divide. 

“I am deeply honored to have been asked to be among your number at this amazing time in the lives of the UMass Lowell graduates and of our nation at large. I’m looking forward to talking about how the vision and values of the education the graduates have received can help them guide the rest of us through the stormy years ahead. And I salute the ecumenical spirit of the university in inviting a Tennessean to speak,” said Meacham, who lives in Tennessee and is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University and at The University of the South, from which he graduated with a degree in English literature.

Tsongas represents Massachusetts’ 3rd District as her late husband, Paul Tsongas, did three decades earlier, prior to his time in the U.S. Senate and as a presidential candidate. She is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee who has championed the prevention of sexual assault in the military, authored legislation to provide modern resources to the armed forces and worked to support veterans transitioning to civilian life. She serves on the Natural Resources Committee, which oversees legislation on domestic energy production, national parks, rivers, forests and wilderness areas, through which she has supported Lowell National Historical Park. A graduate of Smith College and Boston University School of Law, Tsongas was previously a partner in the city’s first all-woman law firm, a Middlesex Community College dean and a volunteer in roles such as member of the boards of Merrimack Repertory Theatre and the Lowell Plan. 

“UMass Lowell has done an unparalleled job of preparing young men and women to rise and meet the ever-growing challenges in our world today. I have had the privilege of representing UMass Lowell and the UMass Lowell community in Congress for the past decade and I look forward to celebrating the Class of 2018 with graduates and their families at Commencement on May 19,” Tsongas said. 

For the 11th consecutive year, a record number of graduates, approximately 4,000, will receive degrees at UMass Lowell’s Commencement ceremonies, which will be held at 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on May 19. The growth reflects climbing student success rates and a 57 percent increase in enrollment since 2007. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranks UMass Lowell as the fifth fastest-growing public doctoral institution in the U.S.

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, who is herself a UMass Lowell graduate, will preside over both ceremonies. “Jon Meacham and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas offer unique perspectives into American government and politics, and the importance of understanding how history and civic engagement have shaped our nation and will continue to do so into the future. We are fortunate to have two individuals who are so distinguished in their fields address the Class of 2018,” she said.

This year’s Commencement festivities kick off on Friday, May 18 at 10 a.m. with the dedication of Dandeneau Hall in honor of James Dandeneau ’80 of Dayville, Conn., and his family for their longstanding support of the university and its students, including scholarships, a research professorship and labs. The building dates back to the 1800s and Lowell Textile School, one of the university’s predecessors. Thanks to the Dandeneau family – which also includes wife Deb, daughter Lauren and son Ryan, a 2010 UMass Lowell graduate – the future Dandeneau Hall has been renovated and will be home to student computer labs and space for engineering and computer science faculty. 

Dandeneau, a graduate of UMass Lowell’s renowned plastics engineering program, is the founder, president and CEO of Putnam Plastics, which makes catheter assemblies and other medical devices, and owns Connecticut National Golf Course. He will receive an honorary degree during the morning Commencement ceremony the next day.

In addition to Dandeneau and Meacham, UMass Lowell will award honorary doctorates of humane letters to Nobel Laureate Shuji Nakamura and Groton School Headmaster Temba Maqubela, recipient of the Desmond Tutu Social Justice Award.

Maqubela, who will be honored at the afternoon ceremony on May 19, came to the U.S. in 1986 as a political refugee. Born in South Africa, Maqubela was arrested for anti-apartheid activism and left his home country, first for Botswana and then Nigeria, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from University of Ibadan. After returning to Botswana to teach, he went on to earn a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Kentucky. He taught at a public school in New York before spending nearly three decades at Phillips Academy in Andover in roles including dean of faculty and director of a math and science program for students from underrepresented populations. At Groton School, he has spearheaded the GRoton Accessibility and INclusion initiative (GRAIN) to ensure that deserving students are never denied a Groton education for financial reasons. He also developed the GRoton Accelerate Challenge Enrich (GRACE) program to tackle the preparation gap and propel all students forward. 

Nakamura, who won the 2014 Nobel Prize for physics, will be presented with an honorary doctorate by UMass Lowell on Wednesday, April 11 at 2:30 p.m. at the 2018 Tripathy Endowed Memorial Lecture where he will deliver the keynote address. He is recognized for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, which have enabled bright white light sources that save energy by producing light approximately 90 percent more efficiently than incandescent light bulbs. The recipient of honors including the 2015 Global Energy Prize, he is the Cree Professor in Solid State Lighting and Display at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at the University of Tokushima, Japan. 

The Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented at the morning ceremony on May 19 to Mark Russell ’83, Raytheon Co.’s vice president of engineering, technology and mission assurance. Russell guides the company’s vision and provides corporate leadership in strategic areas including technology, research, engineering, operations and performance excellence. Russell has fostered important partnerships between Raytheon and UMass Lowell that have advanced research and other opportunities for students and faculty. The holder of numerous patents, he has published peer-reviewed papers on subjects including radar systems, photonic technology, solid-state transmitters and communications systems. Russell serves on UMass Lowell’s Francis College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at UMass Lowell and a master’s degree at UMass Amherst.

UMass Lowell will recognize the honorees and student award winners at the annual Commencement Eve Celebration on Friday, May 18 at 5:30 p.m. at University Crossing, 220 Pawtucket St., Lowell. Since 2008, the benefit has raised millions of dollars for scholarships.

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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 18,000 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.