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Editorial: Leaders step forward with their new degrees

Among the 5,500 University of Massachusetts Amherst seniors preparing to graduate Friday are 11 who will get more than their undergraduate degrees. They will be saluted as 21st Century Leaders by the university based on three things — academic achievement, personal initiative and awareness of community and social needs.

Three are from the Valley. For all of them, accomplishments in Amherst look to be just the beginning.

We want to tell readers a little more about these UMass students, but first note that once again, the Valley is sending forth armies of talented young people, all deserving congratulations for the work and expense of completing the bachelor’s degree. UMass will be the first of the local colleges to confer degrees when seniors and their 22,000 guests gather Friday at 5 p.m. at the Mullins Center. The graduate school ceremonies come at 9 a.m. Friday and the Stockbridge School holds its commencement Saturday at 10 a.m. in Bowker Auditorium.

Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges follow with commencements May 18 and May 19, then Amherst College celebrates its seniors May 26.

The three 21st Century Leaders from our region who will be recognized Friday at UMass are Timothy Light of Pelham, Ankur Sheel of Amherst and Michael J. Boucher of Southampton. A quick peek at their resumes shows all have fused deep academic dives with the desire to help others. They and the eight others earn their status as leaders in part because their private plans have public purposes.

Light and Sheel, for instances, are the “without borders” kind. Light earns his degree in civil and environmental engineering having connected that discipline with public service. He served twice in Kenya with the group Engineers Without Borders. Here in the U.S., he volunteers with Habitat for Humanity. According to UMass, Light plans to work as an engineer in New Jersey for now, with possible master’s degree studies ahead.

The borders Sheel plans to overcome are medical. He says he hopes to earn a medical degree and Ph.D. and then to serve with the international group Doctors Without Borders. At UMass, Sheel pursued a double major in biochemistry and molecular biology and neuroscience. In Amherst Regional High School, he organized a youth empowerment seminar and has also coached youth soccer.

Boucher also pursued the sciences at UMass, with a dual major in microbiology and biochemistry and molecular biology. UMass says Boucher was among only a few undergraduates to present research at the international Molecular Parasitology conference at Woods Hole. He goes on now to a doctoral program in microbiology and immunology at Stanford University.

The other 21st Century Leaders for 2013 grew up outside the Valley, but some are nurturing ongoing connections here. They include Caroline Conena of East Sandwich, who studied management and public health and will work with the company CommunicateHealth of Northampton, where she interned. Tracy Gebhart of Sioux Falls, S.D., will stay in the Valley to earn a master’s degree in public policy from UMass. And Kate Liedell of Westborough, a chemistry major, will stay to pursue a master’s degree in education at UMass, then look for work teaching high school chemistry.

Families and friends of other graduates know these kinds of accomplishments — and these commitments to community betterment — aren’t so rare. All must be willing to answer the call to leadership. We wish all of this year’s graduates success as they look for ways to apply what they know to our changing world.

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