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Commencement 2015 a Celebration of Growth

LeVar Burton Tells Record Class of 3,716 to ‘Be Bold, Be Fearless’

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Chancellor Marty Meehan and Executive Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney present LeVar Burton with an honorary degree. Burton gave the Commencement address to this year's graduates.

By Ed Brennen

Presiding over Commencement for the eighth and final time as UMass Lowell Chancellor, Marty Meehan ’78 congratulated a record number of graduates — 3,716 strong — on their achievement, challenging them to make the world a better place while forever maintaining their connection to the university.

“By completing the education we are celebrating today, you’re in a far better position not only to support yourselves, but to contribute to the solutions that we need in today’s world,” said Meehan, who will become president of the UMass system on July 1. “Every single day I have been motivated by you, the men and women who come to this university looking to work hard and get the tools that you need to achieve. 

“I know what a UMass Lowell education can do for you, not just today, but for the rest of your lives. I want to congratulate all of you, and I want you to know how honored I’ve been to be the leader of this institution.”

Actor, entrepreneur and education advocate LeVar Burton delivered the Commencement address during both the morning and afternoon ceremonies at the Tsongas Center. Best known to graduates as host of the long-running PBS children's series “Reading Rainbow” and for his role as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Burton told graduates to “be bold, be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams because your dreams matter.”

“You have no idea where your dreams are going to take you,” said Burton, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. “And the good news is this: Life, like walking, is a controlled fall. It is not necessary, graduates, to know what comes next. Focus on the step that is in front of you. The rest will reveal itself.”

Adding that he felt a special pride in the graduating class since “I kind of feel like I helped raise some of you,” Burton then delighted the crowd by asking them to sing along with him the opening lines of the “Reading Rainbow” theme song. 

In addition to Burton, the university also presented honorary degrees to Donato Tramuto, founder, CEO and chairman of Reading-based Physicians Interactive; Carole Cowan, former president of Middlesex Community College; John Sampas, literary executor of beat generation icon Jack Kerouac’s estate; and Barry Perry ’68, former chairman and CEO of Engelhard Inc.

The university presented its Distinguished Alumni Award to Lorenzo Cabrera ’94, founder and chairman of the board of Cabrera Services Inc., an award-winning company that specializes in radiological and environmental remediation and radioactive and mixed waste management.

Meehan, meanwhile, was presented with the University Distinguished Service Medal.

“Chancellor Meehan’s refusal to accept mediocrity, his willingness to make bold decisions, and his unparalleled pride for the institution from which he graduated have forever altered the course of this university’s history,” Student Trustee Phil Geoffroy said in presenting Meehan with the award.

In the morning ceremony, undergraduate and graduate degrees were presented in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Health Sciences; and the Graduate School of Education.

Student speaker Qurat Ann of Lynn, a criminal justice major who will begin the Ph.D. program in the fall, congratulated her fellow grads on overcoming obstacles, including this winter’s “snowmageddon.”

“UMass Lowell has given us so much more than just our academic education,” Ann said. “It delivered on the promise made at orientation and today we stand ready for work, for life and for the world.”

During the portion of the ceremony recognizing students who are veterans or active duty military personnel psychology major Rachael Nall received a surprise visit from her brother Chris, who is currently serving overseas. The siblings received a standing ovation while embracing in the center aisle on the arena floor. Watch the reunion.

The afternoon ceremony honored graduates of the Francis College of Engineering, the College of Sciences and the Manning School of Business. The student speaker in the afternoon ceremony was Marina Parker of Clinton, a mechanical engineering major.

This marked the eighth consecutive year that the university has graduated a record number of students — a feat that has paralleled Meehan’s tenure as Chancellor. In addition to thanking the faculty for their outstanding work, Meehan noted the university’s ever-increasing diversity (with students from 42 states and 85 countries), its commitment to community service and its move to Division I athletics as key achievements.

“The class of 2015, more than any other class in my eight years as Chancellor, has experienced this metamorphosis,” Meehan told the graduates. “While many of you will move away, the bond you form with UMass Lowell can and should last a lifetime. As alumni, you will always be part of the university community. Make us proud in all you do, in work and in your lives, and be good ambassadors for this university.”

Senior Class President Keval Bhagat, a business major from Lowell, presented Meehan with a gift on behalf of the Class of 2015 to go toward student scholarships. 

“It’s very bittersweet to see Chancellor Meehan go,” Bhagat said after the ceremony. “As part of the student government, I was able to have lunches with him and see firsthand how much he does for students. It’s been such a great experience.”