By Ed Brennen
With masked students settled in their Tsongas Center seats and robed UML deans and dignitaries in place on the Convocation stage, Provost Joseph Hartman leaned into the microphone and summed up the feelings of the entire university.
“You have no idea how good it is to see you all here today.”
The line drew cheers from not only the new first-year and transfer students who traditionally attend Convocation, but also the sophomores who were included this year, after their ceremony was streamed online last fall during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After 18 months of remote learning, the classes of 2024 and 2025 were more than ready to formally kick off the 2021-22 academic year.
It was the seventh and final Convocation for Chancellor Jacquie Moloney
, who announced last month that she will be stepping down in June 2022. The first woman chancellor in UML history, Moloney smiled and waved to students as she led the processional on stage and snapped a few photos of the crowd with her phone during the ceremony.
“We are absolutely thrilled, now more than ever, to have you back here in person. It’s been a long, lonely 18 months for all of us as we made our way through this pandemic,” said Moloney, who praised the Class of 2024 for persevering through a freshman year of remote learning.
“You made it through some incredibly challenging circumstances, and I want you to know we’re here and we want to make up for lost time,” she said.
Student Government Association President Neyder Fernandez
, a first-generation college student from Lowell, acknowledged that the new River Hawks were beginning a unique year. He assured them, though, that “as you start to get into life at the university, you’ll understand that you’re not alone. … UMass Lowell has a way of making you feel like you are surrounded by family.”
Fernandez, a junior double-majoring in political science and peace and conflict studies, described how the River Hawk Scholars Academy
instilled him with the confidence to take on future leadership roles. He encouraged students to seek out similar support.
Student-athlete Halle Anderson, a senior exercise science major and UML women’s soccer player from Stonington, Connecticut, shared how she organized 7 a.m. meditation sessions on Zoom for the team last spring to strengthen their mental health and wellbeing. The River Hawks went on to win the America East regular-season championship for the first time in school history.
Keynote speaker Nana Younge
’18, executive director of the nonprofit Get Girls Going, said she was honored to be addressing “arguably the most resilient group of incoming students this university has ever seen.”
Younge founded her nonprofit, which empowers Black teen girls through entrepreneurship, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She admitted to students that she struggled in her first year at UML and began thinking that “college wasn’t for me.”
“I was too focused on just getting a degree. I didn’t understand the college journey and process is most important,” she said. “I was worried about what I would get out of the experience, and not realizing it’s about learning how you contribute to the communities that you’re part of.”
Her advice to students was to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, “constantly improving skills, learning from mistakes and proactively implementing your latest and greatest idea.”
While the crowd was bigger than usual, with 2,600 first-year and transfer students joined by hundreds of sophomores, Convocation stuck to tradition in every other way.
UMass Lowell’s Air Force and Army ROTC units presented the colors. The national anthem was performed, via video broadcast, by alumnus Andrew Marshall
’21, who competed last season on NBC’s “The Voice.”
The UMass Lowell Marching Band, under the direction of Daniel Lutz, warmed up the crowd with its first live performance in a year and a half. The band honored the late Chick Corea with a medley featuring a rousing trumpet solo by graduate student Kevin Gallant — which drew appreciative cheers from students.
And, per tradition, Convocation closed with a performance of the UML fight song, “River Hawk Pride
“It was really nice to see the unity,” said Jada Brown, a sophomore criminal justice major and DC-CAP Scholar
from Washington, D.C. As a student who’s completely new to the area and living on her own for the first time, Brown said even seeing all the deans together on stage was helpful, “so I could put names to faces.”
Three winning DifferenceMaker
teams — Digital Life Prosthetics, TrueFIT and Wonderwheel — presented their projects and encouraged students to get involved in the campuswide competition.
“They were very inspiring,” said first-year criminal justice and psychology major Alise Maltsev. A commuter student from Peabody, Massachusetts, Maltsev said she made the trip for Convocation — and the Engagement Fair that followed on the Campus Recreation Complex — to familiarize herself with her new school.
“If I’m not moving in, I might as well come to campus as much as I can,” she said.
After missing out on an in-person Convocation last year, sophomore computer science major Patrick Crowley-Poirier of Hudson, Massachusetts, appreciated being included in this year’s event.
“It feels amazing to be here. There’s kind of that nervous feeling because it’s a new situation, but I’m also really excited to have a college experience,” he said as headed toward the post-Convocation lunch and Engagement Fair.
“I’m ready to go.”