Spirits undampened as UMass graduates 5,500

AMHERST — Gray skies and a light drizzle couldn’t dampen the spirits of the ebullient crowd at the 144th University of Massachusetts undergraduate commencement ceremony Friday evening.

Approximately 5,500 students donned caps and gowns and said goodbye to the place they’d called home for four years or more, and can now call their alma mater.

Many students communicated with loved ones in the stands at the Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium via cellphone as they entered.

Some festooned their mortarboards with decorations, family photos and messages like, “Thank you, Mom.”

Beach balls flew around the stadium throughout the ceremony and at least one group of soon-to-be graduates lit up celebratory cigars before the speeches had begun.

Gov. Deval Patrick delivered the commencement address and stressed the responsibility the graduates will take on as citizens, once they are no longer students.

“Good citizens take an interest in people and issues outside themselves,” Patrick said. “They understand community, in the sense of seeing their stake in their neighbors’ dreams and struggles as well as their own.

“They inform themselves about what’s happening in their community. They volunteer, they listen, they take the long view, they vote,” he said.

To make his point, Patrick made special mention of several students who had already made impacts on that community.

In one example, Patrick praised the work of UMass engineering students Brian Cormier, Andrew Friedlieb, Catherine Paquin, Kyle Morrell and Emily Gardner, who designed a mechanical arm to help Northampton kindergartner Ryan Wade feed himself.

“Each of them and many others exemplifies the highest form of citizenship by seeing your stake in your neighbors’ dreams and struggles as well as your own,” Patrick said.

Patrick also spent a good deal of his time at the podium touting the progress Massachusetts has made in developing renewable energy resources, including wind and solar.

“We’ve tripled the energy we’re saving from efficiency initiatives, and today lead the nation in energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction targets,” Patrick said.

During the ceremony, former Congressman John W. Olver of Amherst received an honorary doctorate of public service, and alumna Gail Collins, the first female editorial page editor of the New York Times, was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy invoked the late Nelson Mandela when outlining some of the challenges the graduates faced during their time as students and will face after leaving UMass.

“In accepting the challenge to attend the university, you set off to change the course of your life,” Subbaswamy said. “In succeeding in that challenge, you now possess what President Mandela so aptly called the great engine of personal development.

“I know that you will find your place in the world,” Subbaswamy said. “It will not always be easy — by definition, life is challenging — but you are now prepared to live the life you want to lead.”

“Some are ready,” student speaker Hayley Marie Mandeville, of Medfield, said in her remarks. “Others can’t stand the thought of leaving this place.”

Matthew Muller of Brookfield, Connecticut, said the reality that he was a few minutes away from being a college graduate hadn’t sunk in yet.

“It probably won’t feel real until I’m back home,” he said.

Muller said the transition from being a mostly carefree college student to having the responsibility of a job in the private sector will be bittersweet.

His mother, Barbara, said the experience of watching her first child graduate from college was amazing.

“He did well, he had a great time,” she said. “He’s an all-around awesome kid.

“It’s bittersweet, he’s leaving my nest,” she said.

Samantha Hatz came from Syracuse, New York, to cheer on her daughter, Megan, who graduated with dual degrees in communications and psychology.

“It’s amazing to watch your children take that next step,” she said. “It goes by so fast.”

Hatz said Megan fell in love with the campus during a visit and never looked back.

“She loved it, she was supposed to be here,” she said.

Sebastian Utubor, a finance and economy major from Framingham, said he’ll miss being able to wake up whenever he wanted to, but he’s looking forward to earning his own income after being broke for 22 years.

Utubor said he’s taken a job with the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and starts June 22.

UMass, he said, “gave me everything I was looking for.”

Mary Luongo of Medford watched her son, John, graduate with a degree in architecture and design.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “He did five years — it was a long haul, but it was well worth it.

“He loved UMass, he loved every minute of it,” Luongo said. “I think that’s why he took the extra year.”

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

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