The University

Welcome to Prospective Students

J. Keith Motley, PhD, UMass Boston Chancellor | April 02, 2011

Good morning! And welcome, students and families and friends. I’m so glad to see you all here this morning.

Welcome to college.

You’re here because you’ve been accepted to the University of Massachusetts Boston. You may not know exactly where you’ll end up yet, but you know – and these are beautiful words – you’re going to college. You’ve made it, and you have my congratulations.

Represented in those letters of acceptance are the hard work and the sacrifices each of you has made for access to the opportunities provided by a higher education. You’ve done the heavy lifting you needed to get into college, and there’s more heavy lifting ahead should you choose to join us in September. But for the moment, I want you to relax, and give yourselves a hand.

Congratulations to you.

Parents. Family members. Friends and mentors and loved ones. You have been pushing, and encouraging, and cheerleading, and backseat-driving, and setting a good example. You have been teachers and coaches and therapists and drill sergeants. You have worked, and worked, and sacrificed as well. Now that young person you care so much about is going to college… and now you can relax just for a moment too. I’ve got to give you a hand, for all that you’ve done to help these students get here today.


Today is all about learning as much as you can about this university while you’re on campus, getting your questions answered, figuring out class registration, internship possibilities, parking, housing, clubs and organizations, and all the details that go into making a life for yourself as a college student.

It’s also about answering one big question: is this where I want to be?

I hope that what you learn about us today will influence your decision to say “Yes!” I hope that we are succeeding in making you feel welcome on this Welcome Day.

Will anything I say to you this morning convince you to join us in September? I don’t know if I have that kind of power.

You have to ask yourself: Do I belong here?

I can’t answer that for you. I suspect that you do belong here. Knowing what I know about this university and its offerings, and seeing what I’m seeing in every one of you here today, I suspect that we have a major, a program, a club, an internship where you’d fit right in. But at the end of the day, this decision is yours.

I can’t tell you what to do or where you should end up. But I can give you information that will help you make an informed choice.

You see, I've stood where you're standing. I've had to make this decision too. I wasn't born Chancellor. Before I came here, I had to ask myself, do I belong here at the University of Massachusetts Boston?

To answer that, I thought about what I value in a university. I thought about the kind of environment I want to be in. I thought about what’s important to me. And I asked myself a few questions that I'll pose to you now.

Is diversity – of color, of creed, of thought, of ideas – important to you? Because it is to me. I am so proud to lead a university that reflects the incredible range of skin tones, accents, religions, and opinions that make Boston such a great city – and the United States such a great country. Our student body is more diverse than any other university in New England. Our 15,000 students are from as close as Savin Hill and as far as Sri Lanka, representing 140 countries and speaking more than 90 languages. 45 percent of our undergraduates and 21 percent of our graduate students are people of color.

You can see just by looking around at your fellow prospective students that you are in a vibrant multicultural setting. And the benefit of our diversity is not bragging rights, or fulfilling quotas. It’s learning. It’s understanding. It’s reaching out beyond barriers of race and culture and language, and finding our universal human truths. That is an essential part of any education. And that is why I know I belong here.

Is a world-class faculty important to you? Because it is to me. I don’t just mean Pulitzer Prize winners and big names in research – although we certainly have those. I mean, the kind of instructors who are busy teaching classes, grading papers, conducting research, sitting on panels, giving interviews, writing books and articles, working with the community – and when you reach out to them because you need their help, will always make you feel like you’re their top priority. We have about 950 of them.

Last year, one of our students told the Princeton Review that UMass Boston professors “will blow your mind with their intensity, passion, and commitment to your success.” I’ll add that they will also blow your mind with their expertise in their subjects, their dedication to making this university stand out, and their constant motivation to change the world for the better. Across every field we offer, our faculty is involved in hands-on, real-world projects to improve their communities, and they want you to join them, working side-by-side. Our faculty is one reason why the Times of London ranked the University of Massachusetts system as the 19th-best university in the world. And that is why I know I belong here.

Is location important to you? It is to me. I fell in love with Boston... I won’t tell you how many years ago... when I came to the city as an undergraduate with a full head of hair. And over the years, that love has deepened. I'm originally from Pittsburgh, but Boston has become home to me, and this campus especially.

We could not ask for a better physical location than Columbia Point. We're surrounded by the ocean on three sides, with the city on the horizon. You can eat your lunch outside, listening to the seagulls and the waves. You can take a harbor cruise from our docks every week during the nice weather if you'd like. Downtown Boston and all its resources, cultural, educational, and social, are a quick T ride away. And we're a part of the diverse and growing Dorchester community, which has proven to be a source of tremendous inspiration and energy in terms of real-world town-gown partnerships.

Our location and our connections mean we have business majors interning at high-profile startups downtown... environmental science students sampling the waters in the Neponset River... English majors studying rare manuscripts at the Boston Public Library... nursing students checking patients for heart disease in Roxbury. I could go on. The city of Boston and its neighborhoods provide our students with thousands of opportunities for learning and growth and hands-on experience. And that is why I know I belong here.

There is one more quality of the University of Massachusetts Boston that I haven't shared with you yet, and this quality attracts folk like you and me like magnets. As soon as I felt it, after talking to the people here and spending time on campus – as soon as I understood it, I knew that even if this university were in a cornfield in Iowa, I would belong here.

That quality is a deep respect for education.

It's why our professors choose to teach here, when they have been recruited by Ivy League universities. It's why students like you choose to come here, when you have plenty of choices in the area. It's why our staff and administrators show up to work every day.

At this university, we don't care if your parents are wealthy or broke, if your clothes are from Target or Louis Vuitton, whether you have one parent or two, whether you're on financial aid or not, what car you're driving, or whether you're taking the T.

At this university, we care that you're learning. We care that you may need some extra help. We care about whether you know how many science courses you're required to take in your first year, whether you're ready to become a teaching assistant, whether your research paper is strong enough to submit to a conference, whether you're interested in staying with us for a PhD, whether you're getting a B or an A on that final exam. We are serious about education.

See, many of our students – not all, but many – have had to fight for their education. Maybe someone in their family has said, women don't go to college. Maybe they've been priced out of access to higher education. Maybe they're starting over in a new country, with a new language. These students truly recognize that their education is worth a fight.

I'm not saying that these students are better people, or that those who haven't fought for their education are bad students. Certainly it's easier and more desirable to not have to fight.

What I am saying is that these students work hard. And even if you grew up on Easy Street, when you're in a class with a student whose family just moved to the US a year ago, who's holding down two jobs to pay for school, who's working for a degree so he or she can better their lives and help others... that respect for education consumes you too and YOU work harder.

Why is this important to me? Well, I didn't grow up on Easy Street. I was one of five children to a single mother. As I mentioned, we lived in Pittsburgh, in a neighborhood where I had plenty of opportunities to get up to no good. But I was also surrounded by people who had fought for their education, and who would stop at nothing to help me fight for mine. I know I'm talking to a lot of folk right now who played that role for you students here today. What a gift that is, even if it doesn't seem that way at the time!

For me, it was my mother who led the fight. She signed me up for violin lessons, acting lessons, Boy Scouts. She made sure I was stocked up with books, and even pretended not to notice the stash of books I had under my bed, that I'd read after I was supposed to be asleep. I played basketball, and she made sure I understood that I was a student-athlete, not an athlete-student.

Without that respect for education that I had instilled in me from the earliest age, I'm not sure exactly where I'd be. And that's why, as soon as I realized that every single person on this campus, from professors to students to to administrators to administrative assistants share that respect, I knew I belonged at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

I would ask you: does that sound important to you? Does this seem like a quality you'd look for in your institute of higher education?

Speaking personally again, I know I made the right choice in coming to the University of Massachusetts Boston. It is and has been an honor to be able to lead a campus this diverse, this welcoming, this committed to teaching and research, and this absolutely devoted to the value of education. I love it here, our students love it here, our faculty and staff love it here. There's always something happening. And if what you're looking for doesn't exist yet, you can always make something happen.

I hope that everything you learn here today helps you come to the same realization that I did. Yes. You belong here. This is your university.

Nothing would make me prouder than to see each of you here beginning classes in September. I wish you the best of luck in your decision, and hope you enjoy your day here on campus. Please, if you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to ask any university staff member in the blue shirts. All of us are here for you.

Thank you.

Note: This is an edited version of Chancellor Motley’s remarks as prepared for delivery.