A Day of Firsts for Many in UMass Boston’s Class of 2013

June 10, 2013

Colleen Locke


Many family members and friends at the May 31 commencement ceremonies were making their first visit to the University of Massachusetts Boston. Even some of the graduates were glimpsing the harborfront campus for the first time.

Maha Bohsali, a resident of McLean, Virginia, earned a master’s degree in instructional design by studying online through the College of Advancing and Professional Studies.

“I was teaching Arabic at the State Department. Some lessons were great and some other lessons—I couldn’t figure out what was wrong in them. I needed to figure out the ins and outs of designing courses,” said Bohsali, a native of Beirut.

“I wanted a program that would help me figure out what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong, and a program that worked around my life rather than me working around it.”  

Bohsali now hopes to get her PhD.

Commencement marked the second trip to campus for fellow online learner Pooja Panesur, who earned her master’s in education in the learning, teaching, and educational transformation track from her home in Kenya.

A world of possibilities

More than 140 languages are spoken on the UMass Boston campus, so it’s no surprise to find students originally from Somalia, Morocco, Ukraine, and the Dominican Republic within a few minutes on commencement morning. Pariyawit Achariyachai's family came from Thailand to see "Benz" graduate with a degree in political science.

Graduating with a master’s degree in family therapy gave Roza Khorshidi the chance to fulfill a dream she has had since she was a teenager in Iran. Khorshidi left her job as president and CEO of the Behpooyan Counseling Center—which she founded to help recent female college graduates find jobs—so that her children could go to school in the United States.

“UMass Boston opened up a new world for me. I used to think in black and white. Everything was either good or bad, nothing in between,” Khorshidi said.  “Being able to enjoy the beauty of shades of gray, and on top of it all being able to not judge anybody, are the most precious gifts I was given at UMass Boston.”

Khorshidi, now a clinician at the Home for Little Wanderers in Somerville, wants to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. Her longterm goal is to return to Iran and establish systemic family therapy as an independent major.

Colchester, Connecticut native Joseph Goodrich earned his second master’s degree this year, but Friday was his first commencement ceremony. Goodrich, a U.S. Marine who received his master’s degree in instructional design, pursued his graduate education between deployments to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, the Horn of Africa, and Italy.

Bringing it all back home

DeShawn Washington, a Dorchester native who earned a degree in accounting and finance, is headed to a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Boston. He will also sit for the exam to become a certified public accountant. Washington was a part of the State Street Scholars Program, an internship program for students in the College of Management, and served as the accountant for the Student Management Fund.

“I learned how to invest. I learned how to manage a portfolio, and I learned how to work with different groups of people on investment opportunities,” Washington said.

Jason Agress, an information technology major and political science minor from Newton, had the opportunity to work with Associate Professor of Political Science Maurice Cunningham on a research project about political blogging. Agress and Cunningham presented their paper at the New England Political Science Association's annual conference in Portland, Maine last month. After graduation, Agress will continue to work as a network media specialist with Newton Public Schools.

“My classes have helped with my work, and my work has reinforced what I've learned in my classes,” Agress said.

A new family tradition

More than half of the members of UMass Boston’s Class of 2013 are the first in their families to graduate from college. Catchena Senatus, a nursing major who came to Weymouth from Haiti eight years ago, is one of them. She came to commencement with her partner, aunt, and cousin, and spoke fondly of the family she came to know at UMass Boston.

“We could go to any teachers that we had in the past and they would help us regardless. The whole College of Nursing and Health Sciences was great. I will miss that and I was very happy to find that,” Senatus said.

Jenny Chiang, a biology major from Concord, New Hampshire, said she grew as a person thanks to the Asian American Studies Program. Chiang was the coordinator for Asian American Studies Outreach this spring, and organized a night market similar to those in Asia to promote the program and tackle perceptions of Asians head-on.

“Growing up as a minority, I lacked a lot of confidence in myself and had my fair share of racism. Asian American Studies was a complete revelation. I was learning from my own experiences from professors that actually cared about me on a personal level. The more classes I took, the more I understood myself and the more I grew to be a just person,” Chiang said.

Hear the Class of 2013 in their own words.