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Commencement 2021: The Class That Persevered Embraces the Future with Optimism

Ceremonies are Hybrid, with In-person Procession and Online Streaming

Doctoral candidates after receiving their degrees at Commencement 2021 Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Ph.D. and doctoral graduates from the Classes of '20 and '21 receive their diplomas.

05/14/2021
By Katharine Webster

Commencement 2021, like the pandemic school year that preceded it, was a hybrid affair that celebrated the graduates’ perseverance and encouraged them to bring the same determination and renewed optimism to their futures.

“To get where you are today, you had to overcome some of the greatest obstacles ever put before an undergraduate class,” Chancellor Jacquie Moloney told the graduates in a pre-recorded ceremony that streamed online before bachelor’s and master’s graduates processed in person through the Tsongas Center in six separate ceremonies – one for each college – over two days. 

“True to form, you showed what you are made of. You leaned in and took those challenges on with great courage and strength of character,” Moloney said. “I'm proud of all that you've accomplished during your time at UMass Lowell. And I'm proud of your perseverance. I know your greatest achievements are still in front of you.”
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney processes into the Tsongas Center for Commencement 2021 Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney processes into the Tsongas Center for Commencement 2021.

Recipients of doctoral degrees from all colleges, for both this year and 2020, attended a separate, in-person ceremony on Wednesday, May 12, because they were few enough in number that they could remain physically distanced in the Tsongas Center. Distinguished University Prof. William Moylan, of the Music Department, was the keynote speaker.

On Thursday and Friday, bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients lined up with two guests apiece, masked and safely distanced, in a tent outside the Tsongas Center. The pre-recorded ceremony played on video screens – including an a cappella rendition of the national anthem by fellow graduate Andrew Marshall, a music business major and contestant on “The Voice.” 

Then, the graduates processed through the arena to receive their diplomas and have photos taken with their invited guests, while the chancellor, college dean, executive cabinet and faculty and staff applauded. Student winners of the Chancellor’s Medals and Trustees Keys were honored by being first to proceed for each ceremony.

Fatima Jameel, who got a degree in pharmaceutical sciences, said she was happy to be able to graduate in person, accompanied by her husband and her mother.
Fatima Jameel with husband Abdullah al Jizani at Commencement 2021 Photo by K. Webster
Fatima Jameel was thrilled to graduate in person with her husband, Abdullah al Jizani, and her mother as guests.

“That was my only hope since the pandemic started: I was praying to have this ceremony, even with just two guests,” she said early Thursday, as she waited outside the Tsongas Center for the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences ceremony.

Julia Desrocher, who received a B.S. in exercise physiology, said it felt “surreal” to be graduating – and to be back on campus after more than a year of remote learning. She was accompanied by her mom and dad, Tricia ’87 and Rick Desrocher.

“It’s been a really fast four years,” she said. “I feel like it just snuck up on me.”

Friday’s ceremony featured keynote speaker Deepak Chopra, the integrative medicine pioneer, author and professor, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. 

Chopra encouraged graduates to express affection, be grateful for life’s gifts and “accept this moment as it is, as an opportunity.” This approach, he said, would lead to happiness. 
Julia Desrocher '21 with parents Tricia '87 and Rick at Commencement 2021 Photo by K. Webster
Julia Desrocher said it was "surreal" being back on campus for graduation with her parents, Tricia '87 and Rick.

“The fastest way to be happy is to make someone else happy, by giving them attention, affection, appreciation and acceptance,” he advised. 

He also encouraged graduates to ask themselves regularly, “Who am I? What is my purpose? What do I want for my family, for my friends, for my community, for the world?” – and then to act accordingly.

“Make joy the measure of success, and make love in action the highest truth,” he said. “Love without action is meaningless, and action without love is irrelevant. But when you have love in action, the whole world will support you.”

Noelle Lambert ’19, a former UML lacrosse player who lost part of her left leg in a moped accident and made a triumphant return to the team after rehabilitation, also addressed the graduates on Friday. Lambert started the Born to Run Foundation to provide specialized prosthetics to children and young adults who want to live active lives. She now competes as a runner in the Paralympics and advocates for inclusive sports.

Lambert reminded graduates to be steadfast, fearless and patient as they pursue their dreams.   

“You took all of these tough days and you made something so special out of it,” she said. “Stay loyal and focused and diligent; stay resilient and determined … and stay true to yourself.”
Commencement 2021 at UML for bachelor's and master's recipients Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Bachelor's and master's recipients proceeded across the stage to be photographed with their diplomas, Chancellor Moloney and the dean of their college.

Student speaker Jamie Smorczewski ’09, ’21 served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper and psychological operations expert for nine years before earning a bachelor’s degree in history and, later, a master’s degree in security studies. He reminded graduates to thank their families, teachers and mentors for their support – and also to express their appreciation through action. His personal mission: end the tragedy of suicide by military veterans.  

“We are the ones who are going to shape the world going forward and decide what kind of world our children will inhabit. Let us rise and be worthy of this historical opportunity to make it a better world,” he said. 

On Thursday, financial analyst and broadcast journalist Ron Insana, who also received an honorary degree, urged the graduates to explore new industries, technologies and opportunities created by the pandemic and to get “deeply involved in the rebuilding of the United States of America.”  

“I've attended events at your school, and I've seen the willingness, the grit, the determination that you all have to better yourselves and better your lives,” said Insana, who has spoken at UML to raise money for the DifferenceMaker entrepreneurship program.
Melissa Antigua shows off her mortarboard at Commencement 2021 Photo by K. Webster
Public health graduate Melissa Antigua shows off her mortarboard.

“There is no good time or bad time to begin your life. There is only your time,” he said. “This is your time. Say yes. Make the most of it. And find your passion.”

Also Thursday, Market Basket was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for Public Service and Civic Engagement for its generous contributions to student scholarships and its support of the many students who have worked there while attending UML. Three executives and managers, all alumni, accepted the award on behalf of Market Basket President Arthur T. Demoulas.

On Wednesday, Larry Siegel, who recently retired as vice chancellor for student affairs, received the Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding University Service. Over 35 years, he advocated for robust student services, from the Wellness Center to more campus housing, while also pushing for greater diversity.