UMass Boston News

JFK Award Winner Tells Fellow Graduates to ‘Be the Change’

Crystal Bozek | June 06, 2012

Albert Chen had been working in the private sector for three years when he decided that he wanted to be part of something more than profits and market shares.

While he could have stayed in the fast-paced, high-paying fields of marketing and technology, this year’s recipient of the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence — the highest honor for a University of Massachusetts Boston graduate  — decided to go to school and learn how to best serve others.

The Montebello, California native was drawn to UMass Boston for its focus on social change and service. Chen says he came here for more than a degree — he came for a life-changing experience.

“What I found were circumstances that transformed me every day. As a student of one of the most diverse universities in the world, I was exposed to new cultures and worldviews that opened up my mind,” Chen said in his commencement address. “… But as I was being changed, so did I seek change for the students of this campus.”

Watch Albert Chen's commencement speech on UMass Boston's YouTube Channel.

Over the past three years, Chen, a social psychology major, has actively sought to serve not only his university but also local, national, and global communities.

Chen served as vice president of Undergraduate Student Government and took on the role of mentor and advisor to the next wave of student leaders. He served as student representative on the Strategic Planning Implementation Design Team, giving students a voice in creating and implementing UMass Boston’s strategic plan. He founded a campus chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and led three service trips to New Orleans.

“Albert’s thoughtful, solution-based, altruistic approach to his work both in and out of the classroom have served him well during his tenure at UMass Boston, and many will benefit from his work after college,” Director of Student Activities and Leadership Shelby Harris said in a letter of support for Chen.

For the past two summers, Chen has traveled to the barrios of Chimalhuacán, Mexico, working with the nonprofit Transformacion Urbana Internacional to help develop a sustainable and scalable model of community transformation there. Chen was able to use his private-sector experience and passion for teaching to develop a five-week entrepreneurial training curriculum for Chimalhuacán youths, helping them to start their own businesses by the program’s end.

This fall, Chen will enter an 11-month Residency in Social Enterprise with New Sector Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to social change, sponsored by AmeriCorps.  He looks forward to returning to Mexico for several more years, helping to address urban poverty on a global scale. He also hopes to use his skills and talent to help nonprofits and NGOs perform better—and eventually build his own.

“The youths in Mexico have a motto. It reads ‘Sé el cambio,’ which means ‘be the change.’ This applies to all of us,” Chen said. “My hope is that every one of us here would embody the values that inspire others, and strive to become people of character – character that can change the world.”

Read Albert Chen's full commencement address.

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