Graduates Told to Celebrate Diversity, Make a Difference at 42nd Commencement Ceremony

Crystal Bozek | June 11, 2010
Victoria Reggie Kennedy delivers the keynote address at UMass Boston's 42nd Commencement. (Photo by Margaret Brett)

Victoria Reggie Kennedy delivers the keynote address at UMass Boston's 42nd Commencement. (Photo by Margaret Brett)

Norwegian student Victoria Granerod, diploma in hand, was still marveling at the spectacle that was the University of Massachusetts Boston’s 42nd commencement ceremonies hours later. In Norway, there are no celebrations like these, she said, no processions and camera flashes, or caps and gowns—just a diploma in the mail.

Dressed in Norway’s national costume—a colorful, embroidered wool outfit that had other guests doing double takes—Granerod, who graduated from the College of Management, and her family said they were happy they chose UMass Boston.

“This place is America,” Granerod said. “I loved going here for the diversity. I feel I got the complete American experience, with different people from all different walks of life.”

Granerod and the 3,365 other graduates hailing from as near as Dorchester and as far as Vietnam were told to embrace their diversity and strive to make a difference in their communities at UMass Boston’s June 4 commencement ceremony on the Campus Center lawn.

“The problems that confront our society are complex and difficult, but men and women of good will like you can make a difference,” honorary degree recipient Victoria Reggie Kennedy told the crowd of graduates. “You are like the ‘ripples of hope’ Robert Kennedy spoke of that can ‘build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’ Most of us won’t make news. But each of us, in public or private life, can make a difference and help to make history.”

Kennedy, wife of the late U.S. Senator and cofounder and trustee of UMass Boston’s new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, delivered the keynote speech at commencement under sunny skies, near the site where the institute is expected to break ground this fall.

She spoke of how her late husband wanted to place the institute at UMass Boston because of the deep connection he felt with the students here.

“You have students from more than 140 nations, most of whom will remain in this country to strengthen and be a part of our democracy,” Kennedy said. “You have students who speak more than 90 languages. … As Chancellor Motley proudly said, this university community looks more like Boston and more like the nation than any other school in the region.”

“Teddy believed with all his heart that the strength of our nation was in its diversity, and that we were constantly being energized and renewed by the hard work and contributions of newcomers in our nation of immigrants,” she said.

At the start of the ceremony, Chancellor J. Keith Motley, following a long-time commencement tradition, asked graduates to stand up if they were the first person in their family to earn a college degree as the thousands in the audience applauded and snapped photographs of the moment.

Fifty-nine percent of undergraduates at UMass Boston are first generation college students.

“Members of the class of 2010 – in your diversity and your excellence – you are the living proof that we are fulfilling our mission,” Motley said.

UMass President Jack Wilson said public university graduates are continuing to make a difference in Massachusetts, the nation, and the world.

“University of Massachusetts graduates understand that they have been given the gift of a transformative education and seek to give back in meaningful ways throughout their lives and careers,” Wilson said. “Because UMass graduates are so serious about stewardship, Massachusetts truly is a wonderful place to live. … It truly is the case that UMass graduates define and drive the state.”

College of Science and Mathematics graduate Thao Xuan Do, who came to America from Vietnam six years ago, received the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence, the university’s highest honor for an undergraduate.

Chancellor Motley also recognized two other honorary degree recipients and a Chancellor’s Medal winner at the morning ceremony. Congressman Edward Markey received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service for his more than 30 years of service and activism on issues of energy and the environment.

George A. Russell Jr., executive vice president and director of corporate citizenship for State Street Corporation, was presented with a doctor of laws degree, honoris causa, for his philanthropic work over 30 years in the banking and finance field.  Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist leader and founder of the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue, was not able to attend the ceremony, but will receive a doctor of humane letters degree, honoris causa, at a later date.

Rounding out the day’s honorees were the three recipients of the Chancellor’s Awards. Peter Kiang, professor of curriculum and instruction and director of the Asian American Studies Program, was presented the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Service. Professor Robert Carter, chairman of the Chemistry Department, received the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, and English Professor Lloyd Schwartz received the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Scholarship.

As the individual college ceremonies around the Columbia Point campus came to an end, some graduates said their happiness was tinged with a bit of sadness.

“It feels so great to have done it,” said Lithuanian-born Vita Trocki of Medford, who received her master’s of business administration with her boyfriend and family cheering her on.

English major Hayley Goff, of Boston, was excited to see all her professors at the ceremony.

“They were so excited for me, shaking my hand, congratulating me. The fact that they took the time out to come to commencement means a lot,” she said. “I enjoyed my professors here so much.”

Psychology major Kevoni Polanco said it took her six years to earn her degree, but it was well worth the time and hard work.

“It was a wonderful feeling, but a little nerve-wracking,” Polanco said. “You wait so long for it to happen, when it finally does, it’s a little emotional. You’re happy and sad.”

Tags: commencement , emk , kennedy institute , the point

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