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Caps off to the Class of 2020

A collage of photos of 2020 graduates.

By University Relations Staff

The class of 2020 will always have a story to tell about their last semester of college. Despite the coronavirus disruption, our River Hawks dug in, focused and finished strong. As they prepare to receive their degrees Friday at the virtual commencement ceremony, some members of this historic class reflected on what they’ll remember best about their time at UMass Lowell, what comes next and what advice they would offer to incoming students.
Headshot of Sophia Samih with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Sophia Samih, Nursing

Sophia Samih established herself as leader at the Solomont School of Nursing. She excelled in academics while mentoring other students and helping them adjust to life on campus. 

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Samih has had to adjust to life off campus while navigating a string of disappointments. She couldn’t complete her clinical experience at Children’s Hospital Boston and graduation traditions were upended. But she has managed to temper those letdowns with gratitude and optimism. 

“It’s so difficult to comprehend missing out on all of the in-person activities that I looked forward to. Yet, I am so grateful for the virtual experiences I have participated in, such as the nursing pinning ceremony and the upcoming virtual Commencement,” says Samih, who is from Tewksbury, Mass. 

Samih is entering a profession that has been hit hard by the pandemic, but she feels prepared. 

“I am hoping to work in an acute-care pediatric setting. Working with COVID-19 patients will be both challenging and frightening. However, I look forward to caring for these patients and seeing them on their path to recovery,” says Samih, who was awarded a Chancellor’s Medal for Student Service.

Headshot of Sam Munnelly with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Samuel E. Munnelly, Mechanical Engineering

For Samuel E. Munnelly, finishing his senior year during a pandemic was a disruption, but not a catastrophe. 

“Although the circumstances changed my plans for the rest of my senior year, it was a great challenge and I learned many skills from it. In industry, things change rapidly, and you need to adjust quickly,” says Munnelly, a native of Litchfield, N.H. 

Munnelly, who is planning on a career in the product manufacturing industry, has already had a taste of a perfect work experience. A baseball lover and diehard Red Sox fan, he was a student researcher at the university’s Baseball Research Center. 

“It was a great experience. I got to perform measurements on samples of baseballs, bats, helmets and sensors, and learn to use specialized air cannons to conduct high-speed impact testing of the equipment and materials used in Major League Baseball,” says Munnelly, who was awarded a Chancellor’s Medal for Community Service in recognition of his fundraising efforts for the Officer Sean Collier Memorial Fund.

Headshot of Andrea Patino Galindo on South Campus with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Andrea Patino Galindo, Business Administration

Andrea Patino Galindo packed a lot into her time at UMass Lowell. 

After transferring from Middlesex Community College, Patino Galindo joined several student organizations while earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in finance. She volunteered in the community, too. As a junior, she traveled to Houston with a class over winter break to help reconstruct hurricane-damaged homes. 

“Helping rebuild a community from the ground up is a really rewarding experience,” says Patino Galindo, a native of Sonora, Mexico, who received a Chancellor’s Medal for Community Service. 

She’s now applying for internships and jobs in the financial services industry and is upbeat about her prospects, despite the bleak economy. 

“It’s tough with everything that’s going on in the job market, but I’m remaining hopeful that there are going to be opportunities,” she says. 

Patino Galindo thinks that outlook is a hallmark of the Class of 2020. 

“I’m really proud of how resilient we’ve been able to stay through all of this. I feel like this only makes our accomplishments that much more meaningful. Our class will be remembered as being resilient and being able to get through these hard times,” she says.

Headshot of Jean-Luc Alexandre in front of a painted canvas with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Jean-Luc Alexandre, Art & Design

Jean-Luc Alexandre not only refined his art while working on his B.F.A., he also broadened his professional skills through his job as an assistant in the campus art gallery

“I got to appreciate the work of my peers in a more neutral light, given my formal interactions with their art on the job, plus there were all the other cool opportunities I was exposed to,” says Alexandre, a multimedia artist whose work includes large, immersive installations. 

After graduation, the Dedham, Mass., resident plans to pursue artist-in-residence opportunities, when they become available again. He sees art as a positive force that can bring people together. 

Looking back on his college experience, Alexandre has this advice for incoming students: “Take the college years to explore yourself, establish personal career goals and get involved in the on-campus communities. Never self-compromise in the face of peer pressure, and only befriend people who strive to live their lives positively and make it a point to have your back, especially when it hits the fan."

Headshot of Surbhi Mavi with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Surbhi Mavi, Biology

Like so many people, biology major Surbhi Mavi dreaded public speaking. Conquering that fear is one of the experiences at UMass Lowell that she will always remember. 

“I had to present my idea during the semifinal round of the DifferenceMaker competition. Having stage fright, I found it very challenging to pitch my idea with my teammates in front of alumni, industry leaders and fellow students. But I did it, and I left the stage feeling accomplished and enthusiastic. I remember my teammates celebrating with joy and telling me what a wonderful experience it was for them, too,” says Mavi, a native of New Delhi, India. 

That was just one of Mavi’s many accomplishments as a River Hawk. She also served as an ambassador for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, president of the Undergraduate Society of Science Students and a Student Alumni Ambassador, all of which helped earn her a Chancellor’s Medal for Student Service. 

Up next for Mavi? She plans on working in the health care profession for a year before applying to medical school.

Headshot of Roberto Rivera in cap and gown with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Roberto Rivera, Education

Roberto Rivera completed his Master of Education degree a few months shy of his 50th birthday – and two years after earning his B.A. in with a double major in English and world languages (Spanish and Italian) from UMass Lowell. He teaches English and English as a second language at a Lawrence middle school, and he plans to return to UMass Lowell for either a second master’s degree or a doctorate. His goal is to become a school principal within 10 years.

Rivera may have taken a road less traveled on his educational journey (He worked for years in retail before enrolling in college), but he has advice for incoming students, whether first-year or transfers. 

“Take the initiative to open up communication with your professors and advisors,” he says. “They will be the ones who will be able to guide you through this new and exciting moment in your life. Having a good rapport with them will help you complete your goals in a timely manner.”

Headshot of Nicole Cruz Merced with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Nicole Cruz Merced, Community Social Psychology

A lot has changed for Nicole Cruz Merced since she transferred to UMass Lowell from Middlesex Community College. A first-generation college student, she initially worried she wouldn’t succeed. 

But she found her way and learned to ask for support when she needed it. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2018 and now she’s graduating with a master’s degree in community social psychology. She plans to apply to Ph.D. programs, but first she wants to work at a community nonprofit. 

Her advice to incoming students? Don’t give up, and reach out to your professors and advisors for help and advice. 

“Go out there and create those professional and academic bonds, because those connections help a lot,” she says. 

Cruz Merced had hoped to fly her parents in from Texas for Commencement and then visit extended family in Puerto Rico to celebrate. But she’s content to wait until it’s safer to travel.

“I’m so happy and so grateful and so in awe of all the blessings that have been conferred on me,” she says. “I had such a good time at UMass Lowell, if anything, I’m sad because I’m wrapping it up.”

Louis Cirignano speaking at a podium with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Louis Cirignano, Business Administration

Louis Cirignano has one specific piece of advice for new Manning School of Business students: Spend as much time as you can studying at the tables outside the dean’s office at the Pulichino Tong Business Center. 

“I wanted to immerse myself as much as I could, and a lot of the connections I made and events I learned about came from studying outside the dean’s suite,” says Cirignano, a Winchester, Mass., native and Middlesex Community College transfer student. “I took advantage of that and got involved with a network of really active students.” 

Cirignano, who started fixing old lawn mowers and reselling them on Craigslist when he was just 6 years old, served as vice president of UML’s Formula SAE race car team. He was a member of the Manning School’s winning Student Managed Fund team. And through the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, he began developing an app called FAM (Financial Action Manager) that aims to help students take control of their finances and plan for the future. Cirignano is funding development of the app from his work as a licensed real estate agent. 

“There are so many opportunities to learn outside of the classroom,” Cirignano says. “You’re really doing yourself an injustice if you turn them down.”

Headshot of Rachel Record with a blue decorative frame around it that reads "UMass Lowell Class of 2020."

Meet Our Student Speaker

Rachel E. Record sought the podium so that she could honor the work ethic and resiliency of her classmates – and talk about what it means to be a River Hawk.

“My speech highlights some of the amazing work that’s been done by our students,” she says. “We’re setting an example through hard work and a passion for what we do, knowing that how we do something is just as important as what we do.”

Faculty & Staff Messages to the Class of 2020

UMass Lowell faculty and staff would like to congratulate our resilient grads for completing their degrees under the current conditions. Share your "Congratulations" video with UML grads using #UML2020 on social media!

Meet More 2020 Graduates

  • Marbella Leal


    An Honors College student fellowship gave Marbella Leal a chance to work with at-risk students and do research with a professor.

  • Payal Patel

    Biology, UTeach

    When Payal Patel started college as an engineering major, she missed tutoring and teaching – so she decided to make education her career.

  • Marvens Francois


    Marvens Francois says switching his major to economics was one of the best decisions of his life.

  • Nicholas Abourizk

    Theatre Arts

    Nick Abourizk started college with plans to pursue a biology degree – but he couldn’t deny his passion for acting. An Oprah Winfrey Scholarship affirmed his decision to switch his major to Theatre Arts.