Gerald Chan, a biomedical researcher and Boston entrepreneur, spoke about immigration and the power of public higher education at the university’s 49th graduate commencement Thursday at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion.
“I stand before you today as a product of public higher education,” he told the crowd of graduates. “If I had returned any benefit to society in my career, it is only because the American public first made an investment in me beginning from the days when I was a foreign student in this country.”
Chan, who delivered the keynote address and received an honorary doctor of science degree, told graduates how he had come to America 50 years ago this month on a tourist visa.
“When I was asked to give this commencement speech, I accepted the invitation heartily because I wanted to show my solidarity with UMass Boston,” he said. “I had learned that a high proportion of the students of this university are either immigrants or children of immigrants. I identify with them because I too am an immigrant.”
UMass Boston graduated 1,299 students with advanced degrees – including 83 doctoral students -- at Thursday’s graduate commencement at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. Watch the ceremony on YouTube.
Members of the class hail from more than 100 countries and speak 90 languages. More than 50 percent of UMass Boston students are the first in their families to earn a college degree. Read student stories from commencement.
The university held an undergraduate ceremony, graduating 2,840 student, at the TD Garden on Friday.
Graduates didn’t let the rain stop them from celebrating.
“All I see is sunshine! Those smiles are incredible,” Chancellor J. Keith Motley said. “It’s a beautiful day for the University of Massachusetts Boston.”
Motley celebrated the diversity and service of the graduates.
“Wherever you come from in the world, you have demonstrated a commitment to stand with your community,” he said.
Student speaker, Mai See Yang, spoke about giving a voice to her father, a Hmong refugee who had been a child soldier in Laos, and to others in his generation, through her research.
Inspired by her father and his generation of survivors, Yang is working to understand the long-lasting consequences of wartime trauma. Her research focuses on the particularly high rates of depression and other mental illnesses in older Hmong adults. She graduated from the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies with a PhD in Gerontology – her fourth degree.
“Maybe I subconsciously kept going to school because I was going for the three of us—my mom and my dad as well as for myself. But realistically I kept going to school because it's the only way I knew how to gain the tools and skills I need to help my parents and their cohort, and those who will come after my parents,” she said.
Eileen Pollack, award-winning author of books like Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull, received an honorary doctor of science degree at the ceremony. Pollack has been an eminent and admired writer for more than four decades. In 1978 Pollack was one of the first two women to earn a bachelor of science in physics at Yale University, graduating summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with honors in her major. She recently published the book The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club.
Richard Holbrook, former chairman and chief executive of Eastern Bank, was also honored with a Chancellor’s Medal, but was unable to attend the ceremony.
About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.