The work has just begun for UMass Boston's Class of 2011.
That was the message principal speaker Dr. Muriel Howard delivered to graduates at the university's 43rd Commencement: As individuals with university degrees, she said, everyone is in "an excellent position to do a great deal more."
"In fact, that is what we expect from you. That is why we have invested so much in you," she said. "As educated people, you have learned to examine your own lives, but you have also learned to look beyond yourselves."
Dr. Howard, the first African American and female president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, delivered the keynote speech at commencement under sunny skies to more than 3,600 graduates and their families, emphasizing their potential to change the world.
More than 700 people watched the ceremony as it streamed live on the www.umb.edu website.
"You don’t have to start a revolution to make a difference. ... Think of the words of Anne Frank who wrote, 'Isn’t it wonderful that we don’t need to wait a single moment to help improve the world!" Dr. Howard said. "That is so true. In an instant, you can turn to the person next to you and say something kind. In an instant, you can offer help. In an instant you can say, 'No,' to tyranny or dishonesty or corruption."
In the audience taking her words in were 3,637 graduating students - the largest class in school history.
Chancellor J. Keith Motley also spoke of the power of positive change in his advice to graduates.
“Earlier this spring, Governor Deval Patrick spoke on campus at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. In his address, he encouraged us to all reclaim our optimism,” Chancellor Motley said. “Now, being optimistic doesn’t mean that we ignore our problems. It means that we live not in denial… but in certainty—that we have the power to change for the better, and bring the world with us.”
Chancellor Motley pointed at the graduates themselves as cause for optimism, inviting those students who were the first in their families to graduate from a four-year university to rise and be acknowledged. This year, 59 percent of the Class of 2011 were first-generation graduates.
The celebratory mood extended to the honors bestowed on university community members and friends.
Dr. Howard received a Chancellor's Medal for her outstanding contributions and commitment to public higher education, educational leadership, community, and diversity. She was joined by James A. Calhoun, head coach of the University of Connecticut’s NCAA Championship winning basketball team, who also received a Chancellor’s Medal.
Larry Lucchino, president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, received a doctor of laws degree, honoris causa. Charles Rose, senior vice president and dean of City Year, was awarded a doctor of humane letters degree, honoris causa, and Frances West, director of the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center, received a doctor of science degree, honoris causa.
College of Nursing and Health Sciences graduate Alia MacPherson received the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence, the university's highest honor for an undergraduate.
Rounding out the day's honorees were the three recipients of the Chancellor's Awards. Professor of Psychology Alice Carter received the Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Scholarship, Professor of English Vivian Zamel received the Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Teaching, and Professor of Biology Manickam Sugumaran received the Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Service.
The biggest surprise of the day came when UMass President Jack Wilson, on stage to help award Chancellor's Medals and honorary degrees, received his own Chancellor's Medal, awarded by Chancellor Motley in honor of his service to the UMass system. This was President Wilson's last commencement while in his post. He will step down as UMass president at the end of the month to become interim president of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, and also to resume teaching.
"This is my graduation day as well," President Wilson said.
**Read about UMass Boston's commencement ceremony in the Boston Globe.