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Commencement 2017 Celebrates a Decade of University Growth

Video by Alfonso Velasquez
Watch the 3,970 graduates of the class of 2017 celebrate the day with proud family and friends.

Record Number of Graduates Includes First Doctorates from Manning School

Three women at morning commencement ceremony Photo by Tory Germann
Graduates during the morning commencement ceremony.

By Katharine Webster

Popping flashes, social media “Congratulations!” messages on the Jumbotron, the university’s brass choir and proud family and friends greeted the UMass Lowell Class of 2017 as they marched into the Tsongas Center on Saturday for their commencement, the largest in university history.

Commencement marked a decade of growth for UMass Lowell with 3,970 graduates, more than double the number of students who graduated in 2008. Chancellor Jacquie Moloney noted that nearly 1,200 students were graduating with honors and that 93 students had a perfect 4.0 GPA. 

The graduates came from 44 states and 87 countries, a sign of the university’s growing national and international reputation, she said. 

“Whether on campus, in the community or during studies abroad, you have advanced our society and improved the lives of the people you touched,” Moloney said. “You helped us to drive the dramatic transformation of this university, now a national story.” 

Moloney asked this year’s graduates to bring the values of the university community into the world they are now entering — values of hard work, continual improvement, service and inclusion.

“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,” she said.

The record number of graduates includes the first cohort of six students to earn their doctorates from the Manning School of Business; all are going straight into jobs as assistant professors at universities. The Honors College also set a record this year, graduating 103 students across all departments and majors.

Much of that growth was overseen by UMass President Marty Meehan, who served as chancellor for eight years. After noting that he and Moloney both graduated from the university, he asked this year's graduates to remain part of the university community, first by thanking their mentors and supporters and then by paving the way for the students who will follow them.

“When you get your first paycheck, take someone out to lunch or dinner who helped you get it,” he said. “And if there’s any money left over, contribute to scholarships at UMass Lowell.”

Steve Kornacki and Rowdy the River Hawk before the morning ceremony. Photo by Tory Germann
Honorary Degree Recipient and Keynote Speaker Steve Kornacki and Rowdy the River Hawk before the morning ceremony.
NBC senior political correspondent Steve Kornacki, who took classes at the university while a high school student in Groton, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters and gave the keynote address at the morning ceremony to graduates of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the Manning School of Business and the College of Education.

He joked that it was the first diploma he’d ever received: Boston University withheld his 16 years ago because he owed $25, which he’d charged to his student account so he could eat the week before graduation.

On a more serious note, Kornacki spoke about a professor in college who had worked with Paul Tsongas on two of his campaigns. Kornacki hung out at the professor's office to listen to his stories about Tsongas, then returned a year after graduation to ask for his mentor's help deciding whether to stick with a “responsible, mature” job he didn’t love or take a chance on a job covering New Jersey politics as a website reporter. 

His mentor noted that when Kornacki was describing the New Jersey job, he started to smile.

“That was the moment for me. That was the decision,” Kornacki said. 

Kornacki wished for all the graduates to have a mentor like his, and the wisdom to give those crucial decisions the smile test.

Civil rights activist and University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski III, who has received numerous honors for his innovative approach to science and engineering education for underrepresented minorities, spoke at the afternoon ceremony and also received an honorary degree. 

Hrabowski told graduates of the Francis College of Engineering, the Kennedy College of Sciences and the College of Health Sciences about his love of blueberry pie as a child, and how his grandmother would bake a whole pie just for him — a sign of her unconditional love.

“Today is your blueberry pie. You know you have been loved by family who worked so hard for you to be here today,” he said. “Times will come in your life that will be very tough, but then remember the blueberry pie and the people in your corner.”

Adeja Crearer, morning commencement student speaker Photo by Tory Germann
Student speaker Adeja Crearer
Students Adeja Crearer, an Honors College English major with minors in political science and digital media, and Solomon Ugbane, who completed his master’s in mechanical engineering, also spoke. Based on their inspirational messages, Crearer and Ugbane were selected to speak by a panel of administrators. 

Crearer, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants and a first-generation college student, noted that many of her classmates were also the first in their families to graduate from college. With their education comes responsibility, she said. 

“Knowledge is power, and being aware and conscious of the world that surrounds us is only the beginning of that power,” she said. “Less than one-third of the U.S. population has at least a bachelor's degree — less than one-third, and yet here we are. And we cannot stop now. Many of our parents look at us as a second chance to be more than they ever could be. This is as much their day as it is ours.” 

Edward Barrett ’58 of Naples, Fla., received the Distinguished Alumni Award for his lifelong dedication to education, first as a teacher and later as president of an educational publishing company. He has served as an adviser to the College of Education and established a scholarship for nontraditional students in memory of his mother, Margaret Holland Barrett, who had earned a teaching certificate from Lowell Normal School in 1926 and returned to complete her bachelor’s in education 30 years later, graduating from Lowell State alongside her son in 1958.

Also receiving honorary doctorates of humane letters were Nobel laureate Steven Chu, a professor of physics and molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University; Francis Spinola ’66, a Lowell native who founded INDSPEC Chemical Corp.; and Mary Jo (Roberto) Spinola ’66, a retired teacher. The Spinolas, who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year, have supported the DifferenceMaker program and other university initiatives.

Graduating nursing majors Stephanie Wilson of Lexington and Theresa Fullerton of Haverhill got teary-eyed as they talked about everything they’d gained at UMass Lowell and everything they’d miss.

“I originally didn’t want to come to UMass Lowell, but I came, and I fell in love with it. It’s the best choice I ever made in my entire life,” Fullerton said.

“I’m going to really miss student activities and all the clubs here,” Wilson added. “I’m going to miss having all of our friends one minute away.”

The two students said they are leaving Sunday for a week of well-earned vacation at Disney World with two of those friends, before they all buckle down and study for their nursing licensing exam next month.