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UMass graduates 5,500 ‘bright, bold’ students

  • University of Massachusetts students walk in the Parade of International Flags during commencement exercises Friday at McGuirk Stadium. <br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    University of Massachusetts students walk in the Parade of International Flags during commencement exercises Friday at McGuirk Stadium.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts graduates Ankur Sheel, left, of Amherst, and Timothy Light, of Pelham, applaud as they and nine others are recognized as recipients of 21st Century Leaders Awards during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    University of Massachusetts graduates Ankur Sheel, left, of Amherst, and Timothy Light, of Pelham, applaud as they and nine others are recognized as recipients of 21st Century Leaders Awards during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts graduate Michael J. Boucher, of Southampton, stands on stage with ten other recipients of the 21st Century Leader Award during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    University of Massachusetts graduate Michael J. Boucher, of Southampton, stands on stage with ten other recipients of the 21st Century Leader Award during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nicholas James Frederick Skarzynski, of Monatgue, smiles as he is recognized as a Jack Welch Scholar during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nicholas James Frederick Skarzynski, of Monatgue, smiles as he is recognized as a Jack Welch Scholar during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts graduates applaud at the end of a speech by Henry M. Thomas III, who is the chair of the Board of Trustees, during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    University of Massachusetts graduates applaud at the end of a speech by Henry M. Thomas III, who is the chair of the Board of Trustees, during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Virginia Sanabia, wearing 2013 glasses, and the rest of the 5,500 University of Massachusetts graduates cheer at the end of the national anthem during commencement last Friday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Virginia Sanabia, wearing 2013 glasses, and the rest of the 5,500 University of Massachusetts graduates cheer at the end of the national anthem during commencement last Friday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst.

    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Adam E. Shultz, the University of Massachusetts Class of 2013 speaker, delivers his speech during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Adam E. Shultz, the University of Massachusetts Class of 2013 speaker, delivers his speech during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts graduates enter McGuirk Stadium for commencement Friday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    University of Massachusetts graduates enter McGuirk Stadium for commencement Friday.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michelle Rosenberg and her daughter, Jenna Raulino, 6 months, of Coral Springs, Fl., wait for the University of Massachusetts commencement to begin Friday at McGuirk Stadium.Rosenberg's brother, Samuel Rosenberg, was among the graduates.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Michelle Rosenberg and her daughter, Jenna Raulino, 6 months, of Coral Springs, Fl., wait for the University of Massachusetts commencement to begin Friday at McGuirk Stadium.Rosenberg's brother, Samuel Rosenberg, was among the graduates.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts faculty members enter McGuirk Stadium for commencement Friday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    University of Massachusetts faculty members enter McGuirk Stadium for commencement Friday.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kenneth I. Chenault, the CEO of American Express, delivers the keynote address during commencement exercises Friday at the University of Massachusetts McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Kenneth I. Chenault, the CEO of American Express, delivers the keynote address during commencement exercises Friday at the University of Massachusetts McGuirk Stadium.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts students walk in the Parade of International Flags during commencement exercises Friday at McGuirk Stadium. <br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • University of Massachusetts graduates Ankur Sheel, left, of Amherst, and Timothy Light, of Pelham, applaud as they and nine others are recognized as recipients of 21st Century Leaders Awards during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • University of Massachusetts graduate Michael J. Boucher, of Southampton, stands on stage with ten other recipients of the 21st Century Leader Award during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Nicholas James Frederick Skarzynski, of Monatgue, smiles as he is recognized as a Jack Welch Scholar during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • University of Massachusetts graduates applaud at the end of a speech by Henry M. Thomas III, who is the chair of the Board of Trustees, during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Virginia Sanabia, wearing 2013 glasses, and the rest of the 5,500 University of Massachusetts graduates cheer at the end of the national anthem during commencement last Friday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Adam E. Shultz, the University of Massachusetts Class of 2013 speaker, delivers his speech during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • University of Massachusetts graduates enter McGuirk Stadium for commencement Friday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Michelle Rosenberg and her daughter, Jenna Raulino, 6 months, of Coral Springs, Fl., wait for the University of Massachusetts commencement to begin Friday at McGuirk Stadium.Rosenberg's brother, Samuel Rosenberg, was among the graduates.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • University of Massachusetts faculty members enter McGuirk Stadium for commencement Friday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Kenneth I. Chenault, the CEO of American Express, delivers the keynote address during commencement exercises Friday at the University of Massachusetts McGuirk Stadium.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

Before the ceremony, audience members made their way up the stadium steps, some clutching rose bouquets beginning to wilt in the steamy heat, others shielding themselves from the sun with umbrellas on a day that felt more like midsummer than mid spring. Mango smoothies did a brisk business and programs doubled as fans.

As the UMass band played John Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare and Theme,” Susan Kaplan of New England Public Radio (a 1982 UMass graduate) greeted the class of 2013’s 5,500 graduating seniors to a roar of applause, as audience members rose to their feet, pointed cameras and shouted: “Here they come!” as the students entered the stadium from the left and right.

Dressed in shiny black gowns and mortarboards, some struggled in 4-inch stiletto heels while others stepped comfortably in flip flops or sneakers, waving to loved ones in the stands and pumping water bottles in the air to shouts of recognition from the bleachers.

After the band played “The Star Spangled Banner,” Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy asked the assembly to pause for a moment of silence to reflect on the Boston Marathon tragedy and thank the UMass community, which helped in the days following.

Subbaswamy went on to characterize the class of 2013 as “bright, bold and unconventional thinkers,” entering a world of constant change, adding, “From what you’ve shown me, you are up to any challenge.”

Subbaswamy also praised the graduates for their “esprit de corps” in raising the funds to restore the university’s Old Chapel to its “former glory.” He urged them to visit often and encourage their children to attend UMass, so that “at their commencement, we want you to beam with pride as your family is beaming now.”

UMass President Robert L. Caret shared his thoughts on the meaning of leadership with the students, urging them to “live life intentionally” as they go out into the world. “Don’t just let every day happen. Drive the car,” he said. “Don’t just be a passenger.”

Next to address the graduates was Trustee Henry M. Thomas III, who repeated his greeting of “Good afternoon” when he heard no response the first time, but getting the roar he was looking for after reminding his audience, “In order for us to grant the degrees we need to know that people are in here to receive them.”

Thomas told the gathering: “I believe your degree will open doors far and wide. You will succeed because that’s what UMass grads do.” He encouraged the students to leave open for others the doors of opportunity they pass through.

Student speaker Adam Schultz of Sudbury opened with an anecdote connecting the traffic, noise and other annoyances of UMass’ ongoing construction projects with his own origins. In 1979, his mother met his father due to a construction-related dorm transfer.

“As you can clearly see, while construction projects inconvenience the lives of students, I wouldn’t be standing here today otherwise,” Schultz said.

Schultz went on to urge fellow graduates to “spread the word that the world is still painfully, painfully unaware of all the great things that happen here” and quoted alumni Bill Cosby on success: “In order to succeed, you need to want to succeed more than you fear failure.”

Local graduates Michael J. Boucher of Southampton, Timothy Light of Pelham and Ankur Sheel of Amherst were recognized as 21st Century Leaders for demonstrating “exemplary standards of achievement, initiative and social awareness.”

Nicholas James Skarzynski of Montague was also honored as a Jack Welch scholar, chosen for “academic achievements, social responsibility and leadership potential.”

In his introduction of the keynote speaker, Subbaswamy said of the chairman and CEO of American Express: “Mr. (Kenneth) Chenault, your career took off like a rocket and has never veered off course.”

Chenault, who joined American Express in 1981 and serves on a number of corporate and nonprofit organizations, warmed up the audience with: “They say that behind every successful child is an astonished parent. But from the smiles I see, it looks like the shock has worn off.”

Chenault gave a history lesson about the origin of land grant colleges like UMass, made possible by a bill signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and about their evolving role and contribution in society. The founders would be surprised, he said, that colleges like UMass would not just be “surrounded by cows, but would develop the technology to clone one.”

He went on to remind the graduates that the world they were entering was one of rapid change. “In 1981, when I began at American Express, it was standard for CEOs to make predictions for the next five years. No one does that anymore.”

He also referred to societal barriers that have come down. “When I graduated in 1973, not a single black person had ever run a Fortune 500 company,” said Chenault, who is African-American. “Our society isn’t perfect, but it’s come a long way.”

He used his decision to leave his work as a lawyer and break into the business world as an example of the importance of taking “calculated risks,” describing risk as “something you’ve got to embrace because, now more than ever, it can’t be avoided.”

Chenault also talked about the importance of character in shaping a person’s life, challenging his listeners, “Ask yourself about life goals, not career goals. Know what kind of person you want to be rather than what kind of job you want. If you stay true to your values, everything else is just secondary.”

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