Solomon Ugbane has spent more than six years studying at UMass Lowell, first earning an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and now a master’s degree.
During that time, half a world away from his home in Nigeria, he has grown and changed -- and so has the university. So Ugbane feels an affinity with the university, and he believes he has a story to tell about hard work and inspiration.
He will get that chance as one of two students selected to speak at Commencement.
“Never despise your little beginnings, because you never know where those beginnings can take you,” he says.
Ugbane learned that lesson from his father, who grew up dirt-poor but was so passionate about getting an education that he worked on a farm to pay for school, then walked two miles each way to get there.
While Ugbane has been more fortunate, he has still faced challenges earning his degrees. He has learned to seek out help and persist after failures, while reminding himself of all the great men like Walt Disney, Morgan Freeman and Abraham Lincoln who experienced major setbacks before achieving their goals.
“Great people have seen an enormous amount of failure. When you’re down, it’s a sign that progress is bound to come,” he says.
One of his biggest achievements so far? Being selected from among a crowd of applicants to deliver his speech before thousands of proud grads and their families, university administrators and faculty.
“I was ecstatic,” he says. “It was the best feeling, one of the biggest morale boosters.”
Ugbane will speak at the afternoon graduation ceremony, but he hasn’t told his family about the honor. He is planning to surprise his mother, sister, aunt and uncle, who will be in the audience.
Getting chosen to speak at Commencement is a major accomplishment for anyone. Students must submit a draft of their proposed speech to a committee, along with a faculty recommendation. If selected as finalists, they must deliver their speech before a panel of nine administrators. The two winners then work with Assistant Dean of Students Mary Connelly to refine their speeches.
“Going in front of that panel, I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life,” says Adeja Crearer, the undergraduate who will give the morning speech.
Crearer, an Honors College student from Piscataway, N.J., majored in English and minored in digital media and political science. She is also a first-generation college graduate who decided to talk about the power of education to transform lives and change the world.
When she found out she’d been selected to speak, she burst into tears and called her father.
“My dad calls me every day and tells me how much he’s looking forward to my graduation,” she says. “When I told him I’d be the speaker, he said, ‘Oh, man — this couldn’t be any sweeter.’”
Crearer looked to the late South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela as the inspiration for her message.
“Although we learned about leaders and theorists in every field, what college was really about was finding ourselves and finding our passions,” she says. “When you know who you are, then everything you’ve learned means so much more.”
Crearer’s passion is political journalism, especially television journalism. She has interned with Agence France-Presse TV and studied media law and ethics with editors at The Associated Press through the university’s partnership with The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars.
She spent her last semester working as a social media assistant in the Office of University Relations. Her first job after graduation will be a similar position in Newsday’s New York office.
Even as she looks to the future, she’s getting nostalgic about the past four years.
“It went so fast,” she says wistfully. “Saying goodbye is going to be tough.”