UMass Boston Student Veteran Sam Chandler Wins JFK Award

June 11, 2013

Zach Herman


The philosophy that bought JFK Award winner Sam Chandler to the stage at University of Massachusetts Boston’s commencement was formed in childhood—a product of long nature hikes with his mother, an amateur botanist.

“Every time that we went out hiking or even just in the backyard, she’d stop to point out all of the different plants and animals and flowers,” Chandler said in his speech at the May 31 ceremony.

“I realize now what she was really teaching me was more than just to watch out for poison ivy and which berries I could eat. It was the value of paying attention to your surroundings and appreciating the world that we live in.”

Some kids were content to learn about life from a distance, through the filter of television or the Internet. Not Sam. The world was offering him an invitation—to learn more, to do more, and to get involved—and he accepted.

The Sudbury native took an unusual route to Columbia Point, serving two tours in Iraq as a member of the US Marine Corps before enrolling at UMass Boston in fall 2009. In the military, he led fellow Marines through the deserts of Fallujah; in school, he served as a mentor for new freshmen on campus.

That eagerness to engage with the world has been a trademark for Chandler, who became the 37th recipient of the JFK Award for Academic Excellence—the highest honor given to UMass Boston graduates. He also received his degree in international management at commencement.

In the Marine Corps, Chandler and his colleagues often stressed the importance of “adding something to our toolbox”—developing new skills and rejecting complacency. It’s that attitude that helped Chandler succeed at UMass Boston, and move quickly to his next endeavor: the MBA program at Babson College in Wellesley.

After the yearlong program at Babson, Chandler plans to work on “the business side” of innovations in solar and wind power. And, perhaps more importantly, to keep adding tools to his toolbox.