Across Five Colleges, 4,700-Plus Receive Degrees to Cheers of Family and Friends

Commencement Saturday,  May 13, 2023 Image by Tory Wesnofske
UMass Lowell presented bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to more than 4,700 members of the Class of 2023 on Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.


In a nation marked by division and polarity, the UMass Lowell Class of 2023 was encouraged to create monuments and underline representations of hope, justice and freedom at this year’s Commencement exercises.

“Resolve to build more monuments, buildings and events, based on different values –  inclusion, love, belonging and unity,” said UMass Trustee Imari K. Paris Jeffries. The executive director of Boston-based nonprofit Embrace Boston, Paris Jeffries oversaw the creation of the Bay State capital’s latest landmark, “The Embrace.”

Welcoming a record-breaking crowd to celebrate the largest and most diverse class in its history, UMass Lowell graduated more than 4,700 students Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13 at the Tsongas Center. The Class of 2023 represents 43 states, the District of Columbia, and 104 countries.

Nearly 20% of this year’s graduating class is the first in their family to attend, and graduate, college. Paris Jeffries spoke directly to them saying: “You are truly monuments of change and progress. You have broken barriers and forged new paths for those following in your footsteps. You have shown that dreams can become a reality through hard work, determination, and persistence.”

Graduates, family, friends and university administrators also heard from Tawakkol Karman ’23, a Yemeni journalist, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and 2023 master of security studies graduate of UMass Lowell.

Commencement 2023 Chancellor Julie Chen and Tawakkol Karman Image by Tory Wesnofske
Chancellor Julie Chen congratulates Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman as she receives her master's degree in security studies on Friday, May 12. Karman was the keynote speaker for Commencement exercises Saturday afternoon, May 13.
Karman spoke about the importance of sticking to your principles. For her, that meant speaking truth to power in a country run by authoritarian rule. More than a decade ago, she helped overthrow Yemen’s autocratic leadership when the Arab Spring was just a whisper and those who sought freedom and dignity were targeted for speaking out.

In her remarks, Chancellor Julie Chen impressed on the graduates – once a River Hawk, always a River Hawk. As they join decades of UMass Lowell alumni who have come before, she encouraged them to turn to one another for support.

“We are here today and every day to lift each other up and help each other see beyond the horizon,” she said.

UMass President Marty Meehan implored the graduates to stand up for themselves and not let challenges deter them from achieving their goals.

“Don’t let anybody step on your dreams,” he said to the audience. “Stick to them as you fight for justice, for the planet, for human rights, for a better, kinder world.”

Student Speakers

Class of 2023 members take selfies during Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 13. Image by Tory Wesnofske
Graduates pose for selfies during the Saturday morning Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 13.
This year’s student Commencement speakers reflect the entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and passion of the UMass Lowell student body.

Mohamed Shammat, a graduate of the Francis College of Engineering, congratulated fellow advanced degree recipients Friday as the university conferred master’s and doctorate degrees on more than 1,700 graduates.

“As we celebrate this great milestone, I carry with me the hope and resilience of my people in Sudan, who are now facing the devastating effects of war in the capital city of Khartoum. It pains me to share that my family and thousands of Sudanese families have been displaced from their homes in the last three weeks,” said Shammat. “But I have found a haven away from home in UMass Lowell. This institution welcomed me with open arms and provided a supportive, nurturing environment.”

Saturday morning, Ewaldine “Shakira” Fedna, a biological sciences major from Lynn, Massachusetts, addressed graduating seniors from the Francis College of Engineering, Kennedy College of Sciences, and Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences.

Student Commencement speakers were concluded by education studies major Sarah Lindtveit, of Methuen, Massachusetts, who spoke to graduating students from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Manning School of Business.

Awards & Recognitions

Distinguished guests were recognized along with top student award winners throughout the university’s celebration of Commencement.

Embrace Boston CEO Imari K. Paris Jefferies with UMass Lowell Chancellor Julie Chen Image by Tory Wesnofske
Embrace Boston CEO Imari K. Paris Jeffries shares a moment with Chancellor Julie Chen during UMass Lowell Commencement on Saturday, May 13.
Four honorary degrees were awarded to Harvard University chemistry and chemical biology Professor Joanna Aizenberg; alumni Amy ’89, ’90 and James ’88 Regan; and a posthumous honor was conferred on Lowell native, lawyer, legislator and judge, Cornelius Kiernan.

To large applause, the Distinguished Alumni award was presented to Bhupen Shah ’92 during the Saturday morning ceremony. Shah and his wife, Ramika, generously support UMass Lowell, including creation of the Shah Family Endowed Scholarship Fund for engineering students as well as continued support of the College of Engineering Dean’s Discretionary and the Student Emergency Needs funds.

Four Chancellor’s Awards were presented at this year’s ceremonies. The following individuals and groups were recognized:

  • Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding University Support: Massachusetts Life Sciences Center
  • Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding University Support: Analog Devices Inc.
  • Chancellor’s Medal for University and Athletic Support: Michael Kuenzler
  • Chancellor’s Medal for Public Service and Civic Engagement: Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association

Additional awards were granted throughout the two-day celebration. A complete list of distinguished guests and graduating seniors with top academic achievements can be found on the UMass Lowell Commencement website.

Congratulating the graduates, friends, family and administrators gathered to relish in this shared accomplishment, Paris Jeffries concluded his speech reminding everyone of the elements necessary to nurture positive growth and accomplishment in the years to come.

He said: “Each of you has the power to create your own unique monument in this world, one that is built on a foundation of values, supported by relationships, shaped by knowledge and experiences, guided by aspirations, and defined by the legacy you leave behind.”