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Jacobs Gives Freshmen an Optimistic Start

Convocation Begins Students’ Academic Life

Bert Jacobs, cofounder of the Life is Good brand, gave freshmen an optimistic message at Convocation.

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Members of the freshman class were treated to a high dose of energy and optimism at UML’s first-ever convocation ceremony held Thursday, Sept. 7, at Durgin Hall, as Life is Good founder Bert Jacobs revealed the secret of his company’s successߞ;and of a successful and fulfilling life.

“You need to be an optimist. It is the most empowering thing you can do,” said the academic-robed but sneaker-wearing Jacobs as he prowled the Durgin stage. “If you don’t realize today that today is good, you’re not going to get there…You have to appreciate today.”

The packed auditorium seemed to respond to the high-energy, unscripted talk by Jacobs, who, with his brother John, founded the Life is Good brand 10 years ago. Now an $80 million business with more than 200 employees, the company started with the brothers selling t-shirts out of their van on the streets of Cambridge. After five years of barely surviving, they finally struck a chord with a stick-figure character named Jake, whose simple optimistic sayings counter society’s overwhelmingly negative messages.

“It’s a tremendous advantage to stop and appreciate the good things in life,” said Jacobs. “It’s not about some day. It’s about today.”

Freshmen were treated to other wise advice during convocation, which marked the beginning of the UML educational experience just as commencement marks the end. Interim Chancellor David MacKenzie, seeing the fruits of one of his first goalsߞ;to strengthen the start of school formalitiesߞ;reassured students that the University is committed to providing the best education possible for every student. But he also asked students to go further.

“You will probably never have a better chance for a transformative experience,” said MacKenzie. “I encourage you­ߞ;no, I implore youߞ;to go beyond the academic and become fully engaged in the UML experience.

“If you fully participate…life can be more than good. Life can be great at UML,” he said.

Dean of the College of Management Kathy Carter, representing all the academic deans, challenged UML’s newest students to develop a love of learning for the rest of their lives. “You can be a passenger or you can drive the bus. We challenge you to drive the bus.”

Dean of Students Larry Siegel formally welcomed the largest class in recent historyߞ;1,184 strong, 10 percent more than last yearߞ;into the UML academic community. “Your job…is to make every effort to develop yourselves into the next generation of scholars,” he said to open convocation, which included music by the UML marching band and greetings from Lowell Town Manager Bernie Lynch, a UML alumnus.

Graduate student Heather Makrez, the student representative to the Board of Trustees, offered her own advice, based on personal experience. “Many people will ask you, what do you want to do with your life…I’d rather be asked, what do you love?” said Makres. “In order to find your place, you need to take the initiative. Find out what makes you happy.”

But it was Jacobs who earned a standing ovation after relating the story of his company’s turning point, a conversation he and his brother had five years ago. They were debating whether to accept a buyout offer that would have made the pair rich beyond their dreams, or whether there was something more important in life.

“Pretty quickly we came to the conclusion that [money] is not enough…Maybe all these things happen for a reason,” said Jacobs of their company’s success. In the end, they decided to rebuff all the offers and take the money they would have spent on advertising and give it to charities helping children. “We wanted to do something more fulfilling than just collecting a pile of money.”

On Saturday, Oct. 21, Life is Good is sponsoring a pumpkin festival on the Boston Common to benefit Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with cancer and their families. Jacobs asked the students to bring a carved pumpkin to the event to help the company set a world record for the most carved pumpkins, while helping to raise an estimated $250,000 for the camp.

Dean of Students Larry Siegel welcomes freshmen into the UML community of scholars at Convocation
crowd of auidence's clapping and cheering during Umass Lowell's auction.
Students responded to Jacobs' message with a standing ovation.