Nursing Student Awarded UMass Boston’s JFK Award
June 03, 2011
Office of Communications
John F. Kennedy Award Winner Alia MacPherson today told her fellow graduates at UMass Boston’s 43rd Commencement not to forget where they came from.
“Wherever your journey takes you from this point forward... always be grateful for what you have, and do not accept the word NO when you are fighting for your destiny,” MacPherson said.
The Marblehead native knows this message all too well.
After a family illness forced her to drop out of high school at age 16, MacPherson had to put her dreams of a college education on hold.
She took on full- and part-time jobs, earned her GED, and cared for her family; her future, she would say, was limited to just getting through the day. It took MacPherson almost 10 years to make it into a college classroom, but once she did, she made every moment count.
MacPherson, 30, received the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence – the highest honor for University of Massachusetts Boston graduates – at today’s commencement ceremony. She heads to Yale University’s School of Nursing in the fall.
The award is given to the graduating senior who best exemplifies academic excellence, commitment to service, and good citizenship.
“I am humbled by how many of our students fit this description every year, and I am proud to recognize Alia MacPherson for standing out among her fellow nominees,” Chancellor J. Keith Motley said. “Alia has overcome great obstacles on her path to success, and she has never stopped giving back to her fellow students, her professors, and the university community.”
Besides receiving the opportunity to speak at commencement, JFK Award winners receive a $1,000 honorarium, and a bust of John F. Kennedy. MacPherson is the 35th recipient of the JFK award.
MacPherson was drawn to nursing during her first semesters at UMass Boston as an undeclared major. Her mother had been a nurse, and MacPherson felt a connection. After three attempts, she was accepted into UMass Boston’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
And she found her calling while on a service trip to Africa.
This summer she will visit Kenya for a third time with Associate Professor Eileen Stuart-Shor’s Kenya Heart and Sole project to help survey and screen villagers for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. MacPherson says it is now her mission to reduce the barriers to healthcare and improve health across the globe.
“While heart disease and cancer are significant health threats, health disparities such as lack of access, poor quality, high cost, and even language barriers are killing our diverse population quicker than any other diseases out there,” she said.
While at UMass Boston, MacPherson was on the Dean’s List and served as class president, a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society, an academic peer advisor, and a member of the International Nursing Honor Society – all while working 60 hours a week.
“Alia has gone from GED to Yale,” said Deborah Lind Mahony, a clinical associate professor of nursing and health sciences and Macpherson’s advisor. “But in between, she has been a nursing scholar at UMass Boston. She approached her years at UMass Boston as an opportunity to rise above adversity and was able to succeed from a very tough start.”
About the University of Massachusetts Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s eight colleges and graduate schools serve more than 15,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit www.umb.edu.