‘Everybody should go here’: Spirits high as UMass graduates 9,500 students 


Staff Writer

Published: 05-28-2023 12:44 PM

AMHERST — Over the past four years, students who have been part of the University of Massachusetts say they have built a community that gives them confidence as they are set to depart for future endeavors.

“I love being part of everything on campus,” said Okoh Frimpong of Worcester, who earned a biochemistry and microbiology dual degree, as he waited to proceed into McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the 153rd commencement ceremony Friday morning.

Though Frimpong is heading to Dana-Farber in Boston to do research work, and taking a two-year gap during which he will apply to medical schools, Frimpong said he could envision one day returning to teach.

A similar feeling exists for Kaitlin LeBlanc of Wilmington, an English major who will be teaching English language arts at a high school in Lawrence, and is also enrolling in a master’s degree program.

“I loved UMass,” LeBlanc said. “I feel everybody should go here.”

They were among 7,000 undergraduates, and 2,500 graduate and doctoral students, receiving their degrees in front of thousands of family members and friends at the stadium on a bright and sunny day, with soccer Hall of Famer Brianna Scurry, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1996 and World Cup in 1999, providing the keynote address and offering advice that “success is not a straight line.”

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After suffering a debilitating concussion and falling into despair, even pawning her gold medals, she emerged from personal crisis to become an inspirational advocate for concussion awareness, encouraging others to break barriers.

“There was a point where things were very dark for me, but I decided to hang in there,” Scurry said, getting the proper treatment, falling in love and now being happily married for five years, observing her wife in the crowd.

The critical choice, she said, is what to do with your adversity.

“Every single one of you is capable of changing your world,” Scurry said. “If a  young, skinny Black girl from a 2,000-person community i n Minnesota can go on to win two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup championship, what can you all do? Imagine that.”

“Keep your resilience, your potential, your understanding, your passion, your attitude,” Scurry said, as she also reflected on returning to Amherst for the first time in 30 years, but enjoying the familiarity of a slice of Antonio’s Pizza and seeing her dorm room at John Adams Tower.

The ceremony marked the final commencement for Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who told the students that they already have been part of “revolutionary change” during his 11 years, reflecting on how they pushed him to speed up the timeline for his Carbon Zero initiative. “This is the power of young adults,” Subbaswamy said.

Subbaswamy became emotional, too.

“Your commencement is the last time I will stand on this platform, to witness transformation from students to alumni,” Subbaswamy said. That led to standing applause and chants of “Swamy” from students. “You’re very kind, you’re making this hard for me,” he responded.

Vikram Singh, a computer science major with a passion for using his technical expertise to benefit the community, was the undergraduate speaker.

“We are champions in the domain of change,” Singh said. “We are gladiators in the arena of adaptability and we are warriors in the kingdom of the unexpected.”

Patricia “Tita” Feraud-King, a doctoral candidate and mother, was the graduate speaker and discussed her activism to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.

“What surprised me the most throughout this journey was how the administration staff and faculty did not ostracize or blacklist us. Instead, they embraced our revolutionary ways and sometimes even encouraged us,” Feraud-King said.

In addition to Scurry receiving an honorary degree, others recognized included Cheryll Toney Holley, the leader of the Hassanamisco Nipmuc Band; Esther Terry, a founding faculty member of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies; and William and Joyce Cummings, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Charles Hallberg, an alumnus who founded a pharmacy benefits management company focused on consumer-driven, cost-effective and therapeutically appropriate prescription drug care, received a Distinguished Achievement Award.

Ten students were celebrated with 21st Century Leader awards, while Nicholas Perello received the Commitment to Diversity Award, and Ajit Kumar Sorout and Porntip Israsena Twishime each received Distinguished Teaching Awards.

UMass President Marty Meehan praised Subbaswamy for his leadership and called on the students to be future leaders. “We need each and everyone of you to participate and to make this world a better place,” Meehan said.

Among the newly minted graduates on hand was Andrew Herrmann, who came up four credits short of earning his degree in English literature in 1985 and has since run his family business in Middlebury, Vermont. Now 60, Herrmann took online classes at the University of Vermont and successfully had these transferred.

“I wanted to say I was a UMass alum, like all my buds, like all my fraternity brothers,” Herrmann said, who will continue his studies at Johns Hopkins University, pursuing a master’s of liberal arts degree. “Now I can really say I love UMass hockey, I love UMass football. That’s nice.”

Marina Goldman, an English major who was receiving multidisciplinary honors and wore a large QR code for her LinkedIn page on her cap, said she is ready to start a career in marketing for the University of Massachusetts Press. Her time was memorable since fall 2022, when she met her boyfriend, James, who was graduating alongside her, and graduating alongside those in an honors creative writing thesis seminar.

“It has been really meaningful,” Goldman said.

“These past few years have been pretty nice,” said Jason Tweneboah of Worcester, a biology major who departs to work in a manufacturing department at a Boston pharmaceutical company. “This has been a very necessary experience in preparation for the outside world.”