UMass Boston

Graduate Commencement Speaker Ciara Ham Looks Forward to Giving Back, Providing Resources to Marginalized Communities

05/20/2024| Danielle Bilotta

As Ciara Ham graduates from the College of Management this week with her master’s degree in business administration, she is already making plans to start a nonprofit that provides resources to marginalized communities. It’s a cause that’s close to her heart. 

Ciara Ham Photo

Born in South Boston, Ham grew up in Boston Public Housing, attending Boston Public Schools, and shared that coming from a marginalized community meant access to resources and opportunities were limited.  

“However, because of UMass Boston, I am now the first in my family to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree and the first to attend graduate school and receive a master’s degree,” Ham said.  

Ham started her journey at UMass Boston as an undergraduate studying business management accounting and quickly became involved in various initiatives and programs across campus.  

Over the course of her undergraduate studies, Ham volunteered her time with the Strong Women Strong Girls program, which provides mentorship and leadership opportunities to young girls from underserved communities. She joined the student advisory board advocating for student needs, and participated in focus groups for the Ross Center for Disability Services to help improve support services for students.  

As a graduate student, Ham was a teacher’s assistant in the College of Management, supporting and mentoring students through their own academic journeys.  

“Ciara is a natural born leader,” said Joyce Sangrey Morgan, director of the Ross Center, wrote in her nomination letter. “Ciara is a proud first-generation college student who showed a remarkable amount of resourcefulness and tenacity to pursue her education. Even when faced with challenges, she remained resilient and motivated.” 

Outside of being a student, Ham is a birth Doula at the Boston Medical Center where she provides emotional and physical support to marginalized mothers during pregnancy and labor. After graduation, in addition to spending quality time with her two sons, she’s looking forward to opening her own Doula business. 

“During my time at UMass Boston, I learned that my passion is giving back. It’s what I’m most comfortable doing,” she said. “Now that I have the knowledge, the education, and the experience, I'm looking forward to giving back.” 

Ham said she was initially interested in attending UMass Boston after taking a tour on campus and feeling like she could fit into the culturally diverse campus community. Growing up in a similar environment, she said the diversity made her feel at home, and that her favorite part about being a Beacon is the friendships she made with people who came from all over the world. 

“I have friends from Ukraine, Kansas, and India – so many different perspectives and outlooks,” she said. “I’ve met some of the greatest people at UMass Boston from faculty and students.” 

From the food pantry to the Healy Library and IT Services, Ham praised the numerous resources UMass Boston offers students and believes the university stands by its mission to support students from all walks of life. She encourages students to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and consider what resources the university has available to help fill the gaps. 

“I think UMass Boston really believes in students like me–the first gen, the troubled backgrounds–they look out for us, and they help us,” she said. “Any time I needed it, the help was there. UMass Boston is the reason I am who I am.” 

Ham recently represented South Boston as a finalist in the Miss Massachusetts USA pageant and used the platform to share her story and inspire others to pursue their dreams and make a difference in their communities. Ham’s passion for helping others reach their potential is motivated by the help she received during her own academic journey. 

“A lot of people that come from my position face discouragement but if you have that one person that helps you, it’ll literally change your whole life,” she said. “I view myself as a token of hope. I try to be that voice to help people, support them, and guide them in the right direction.” 

Ham said she feels honored to have been chosen as the graduate student speaker and she’s excited for her sons to see her on stage on commencement day. Her speech will serve as encouragement for students to always keep trying and to not be afraid of asking for help. 

“I live by the phrase ‘You don’t fail unless you stop trying’. Use literally every resource UMass Boston has to offer,” she said. “I really appreciate UMass Boston – they changed my life.”