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Commencement 2018 Marks a Moment of Transition

Meacham, Tsongas Tell Record Graduating Class to Carry UML Lessons into the World

Jon Meacham speaking at 2018 UMass Lowell Commencement Photo by Tory Germann
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham implores students to, "Please, please, please don’t let any single cable network or Twitter feed tell you what to think."

By Ed Brennen

Amid the traditional pomp and circumstance of mortarboards and processionals — and the more modern-day trends of selfies and social media (#UML2018) — the university conferred degrees to a record 4,358 graduates at its 2018 Commencement ceremonies at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. 

Addressing a diverse graduating class that hails from 36 states and 97 countries, Chancellor Jacquie Moloney congratulated students on their achievement and praised the “extraordinary leadership, innovation and compassion” that defined their time at the university. 

“Today we send you off into a world that has changed dramatically in the few short years that you’ve been here,” Moloney said. “Every one of you here today has the potential and capacity to address the challenges of the world. Look at all that you’ve accomplished in your short time here. Think of all that you’ll be able to do in a lifetime.” 

This marks the 11th straight year of growth for the university’s graduating class, which has more than doubled in size since 2008. 

“Your excellence has fueled UMass Lowell’s rapid growth and ascent up the national rankings in the past decade,” Moloney told graduates. 

The university conferred 122 doctoral, 1,124 masters, 3,091 bachelors and 33 associate degrees. More than 1,400 members of the class graduated with honors and 120 students had a perfect 4.0 GPA. 

A happy woman graduate from the UMass Lowell 2018 Commencement ceremony Photo by Tory Germann
The university conferred degrees to a record 4,358 graduates at its 2018 Commencement.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham received an honorary doctorate of humane letters and gave the keynote address at the morning ceremony to graduates from the Francis College of Engineering, Kennedy College of Sciences, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences and intercampus programs. 

With his latest book, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels,” debuting at No. 1 on the New York Times’ best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction just days earlier, Meacham drew on the lessons of America’s turbulent history to offer hope in navigating the nation’s current political divide. 

“You were here at UMass Lowell in 2016 when America elected the most unconventional president in the long life of the republic. So you understand history. You’ve already lived through a chunk of it,” Meacham said. “Despite the partisan ferocity of the moment, if we listen closely, very closely, we can hear the music of Abraham Lincoln’s ‘better angels of our nature.’ Your task, in all the years ahead, is to keep an ear attuned to those notes. UMass Lowell has taught you how to hear that music. And always keep listening.” 

Speaking on the eve of his 49th birthday, Meacham also implored students to resist the rising sense of tribalism in America. 

“Please, please, please don’t let any single cable network or Twitter feed tell you what to think,” Meacham said. “The world you’re entering is one of division and self-absorption. We stare at screens. We filter our news to suit our ideological predispositions. We tend to offer reflexive opinions without much thought and with ever-increasing fervor. If you remember one thing from this morning: Just because you have the means to express an opinion quickly does not mean you have an opinion worth expressing quickly.” 

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, who will leave office this year after a decade representing Massachusetts’ 3rd District, received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service during the afternoon ceremony. In the arena named in memory of her late husband, Lowell native Paul Tsongas, she delivered the keynote address to graduates from the College of Education, the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the Manning School of Business. 

“As you leave this afternoon, I hope you will always remember that the power that resides in you, that was nurtured and educated at this remarkable university, can be engaged as a catalyst for change, in your lives, in the lives of a community, of a nation and of our world,” said Tsongas, who was the first woman in 25 years elected to represent Massachusetts in the House of Representatives when she was voted into office in 2007. “You are the future change-makers. May you embrace this opportunity with courage and boldness.” 

Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney, Putnam Plastics CEO James Dandeneau and Dean Joe Hartman Photo by Tory Germann
Honorary Degree recipient James Dandeneau with UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney and Francis College of Engineering Dean Joseph Hartman.

The Distinguished Alumni Award was given to Mark Russell ’83, Raytheon Co.’s vice president of engineering, technology and mission assurance. Honorary degrees also went to James Dandeneau ’80, president and CEO of medical-device maker Putnam Plastics and owner of Connecticut National Golf Course, and Temba Maqubela, a recipient of the Desmond Tutu Social Justice Award and headmaster of the prestigious Groton School. 

Mechanical engineering grad Yehya Merhi, who was born in Lebanon and raised in Saudi Arabia, told fellow graduates in the morning ceremony that they all came to the university looking for something, be it paths to future careers or resources to give back to their communities. 

“I came here looking for love — I fell in love early on with the business of saving lives,” said Merhi, who works for a medical device company that he originally joined in 2015 through the university’s co-op program. “UMass Lowell introduced me to a world that I never knew existed.” 

Zayna Basma, a political science grad from Shirley, delivered the afternoon student address. Basma received the Chancellor’s Medal for Community Service for her volunteer work, including establishing a mentoring program that helps Burmese refugees successfully transition from high school to college. 

“The ability to truly be a part of this UMass Lowell community is to use the opportunities we are given to give back,” Basma said. “Time doesn’t cost anything, but the time each and every one of you have taken outside of the classroom has built the community we have here at UMass Lowell and made us who we truly are as River Hawks.” 

The College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences had the largest graduating class (1,117), followed by the Manning School of Business (1,039), the Francis College of Engineering (865), the Kennedy College of Sciences (784), the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences (438), the College of Education (94) and the graduate studies intercampus programs (44). 

Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, UMass President Marty Meehan and Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen at UMass Lowell Commencement. Photo by Tory Gormann
Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney, Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service recipient U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, UMass President Marty Meehan and Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen at Commencement.

Two new graduate programs — the Master of Science in Business Analytics and the Master of Public Health in Dietetics — awarded degrees for the first time. Student Government Association President Lisa Degou and Senior Class President Kailyn MacNeil presented the Senior Class Gift to Chancellor Moloney. The ceremonies, which were the 27th since the formation of UMass Lowell in 1991, also included Provost Michael Vayda, members of the UMass Board of Trustees, Lowell Mayor Bill Samaras, City Councilor John Leahy, State Rep. Diana DiZoglio and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.

UMass President Marty Meehan, who conferred degrees in the afternoon ceremony, told graduates he was confident they could succeed in anything they set out to achieve — because he was where they were sitting exactly 40 years ago.

“I know that If you work hard and commit yourself to a lifetime of learning, there’s nothing you can’t achieve,” said Meehan, who graduated from the university in 1978 and served as its chancellor from 2007-15. “We face a very different world where the changes are rapid. This world needs your intelligence and your kindness. This world needs you to take it on and make this country and world a better place. And I know that you can do that.”