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UMass grads told to ‘make your own rules’

UMass graduates 5,500 in 146th commencement

  • A group of people walk to their seats before the University of Massachusetts commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • University of Massachusetts graduate Elkhansaa Elguenaoui, who is this year's student speaker, delivers her speech during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • A group of University of Massachusetts graduates turn their tassels at the close of commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • University of Massachusetts graduates Elizabeth Noyes and Douglas Dube listen during the keynote address at commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. The seats around them emptied during the ceremony, due to heavy rain. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Wayne Chang, who is the director of product strategy at Twitter, delivers the keynote address during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • A group of University of Massachusetts College of Nursing graduates celebrate during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • The University of Massachusetts Colonial Minutemen Honor Guard present colors at the start of commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. They are, from left: Chris Miller, Jim Calabro, Ben Hyland, Bobby McDermott and Frank Schulze. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Richard Halgin, who is a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, carries the mace during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • A group of University of Massachusetts graduates, two wearing boxes to protect them from rain, tip their seats to rid them of water before commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Heather Bedard, of North Attleboro, who is a graduate of the College of Nursing, celebrates UMass commencement. JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people wait for the start of the University of Massachusetts commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • University of Massachusetts graduates carry flags in the Parade of International Flags during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy tips his hat to the graduates during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • University of Massachusetts graduates, in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Matthew Larson, left, and William Ellis share a moment while waiting for commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS

  • University of Massachusetts President Martin Meehan speaks during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • David Fubini, left, who is on the University of Massachusetts board of trustees, and Wayne Chang, who is the director of product strategy at Twitter, smile during a speech by UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy during commencement Friday at McGuirk Stadium. Chang was this year's keynote speaker. JERREY ROBERTS—



For the Gazette
Wednesday, June 08, 2016

AMHERST — Ben Hyland felt a bit nostalgic Friday as he donned the Colonial-era costume he wore as a member of the University of Massachusetts Marching Band for the final time Friday afternoon.

The 2016 graduate, a member of the band’s five-man honor guard, helped lead the processional for the 5,500 graduating seniors into McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the 146th commencement of the flagship campus.

When the processional finished, instead of picking up a clarinet as he usually does to play in the band, Hyland reached for his cap and gown.

The environmental conservation major from Hanover was in a reflective mood as he prepared to graduate. The highlight of his years as a student was being part of the marching band, he said. It took him to the Thanksgiving Parade in New York City in 2013 and to several UMass football games at Gillette Stadium.

Mostly, he said, “It taught me leadership and gave me a role in the community.”

By the time most of the speakers were done and the ceremonial switching of the mortarboard tassels from left to right was completed, half the class of 2016 was heading out the gates of the stadium as a steady rain fell during the soggy graduation ceremony.

Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Wayne Chang told the crowd about the disappointment his family — Taiwanese immigrants who came to Haverhill when he was 6 — felt when he dropped out of UMass a decade ago.

On Friday he was back to claim not a bachelor’s degree but an honorary doctorate in business in recognition of his success as a high-tech entrepreneur who is currently the director of product strategy at Twitter.

The unusual path to a college degree was in keeping with a life devoted to “hacking the system,” he said.

Chang added that one of his most memorable experiences as a student was being caught hacking into the computers of the UMass administration and being called in to meet with the director of security and a police officer.

Wearing Birkenstock sandals in the snow, he arrived at that meeting fearing the worst. To his relief, they said, “We won’t press charges, we just want to know how you did it.”

This turned out to be just one of the steps along a path that led to the message he wanted to leave with the class of 2016: “Make your own rules, hack the system and change the world.”

Victoria Jones of Ledyard, Connecticut, is on a more traditional path. She is graduating with a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing and has a job lined up with the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, where she will work in hematology and oncology.

“I love working with children and cancer,” she said. “It’s amazing to see what little fighters they are and I am honored to work with them and hopefully make a difference no matter what the outcome.”

She agreed with her fellow alumna Zakia Hankour of Harvard that the highlight of being at UMass was the close bonds they formed in the School of Nursing.

“It’s a really close major because we go through so much together,” said Hankour.

Andrea Hall was graduating together with Finn, a dog she has been training for the past year to be a service dog. “He lives with me and goes to all my classes,” said the management major.

Her canine companion can do things like turn lights on and off and recognize the signs of a panic attack. She earned three credits for her role as a trainer.

The other honorary degree recipient at Friday’s ceremony was Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 2006 to 2011.

Bair taught at the UMass Eisenberg School of Management before being recruited to lead the FDIC.

The student speaker, Elkhansaa Elguenaoui, spoke of the learning that takes place outside the classroom.

“If my days here at UMass have showed me one thing, it’s not who you are labeled as, me being a first-generation Arab American Muslim woman of color … but more about what I do with that. It’s not what I look like but who I am,” she said.

Neil Hiralall, of Rochester, was there to support his son Christopher, who was graduating with a degree in accounting.

“Other than the rain it’s been fabulous,” he said of the ceremony. Earlier in the day he was at the Mullins Center for an honors ceremony.

“The pride of parenthood swells up when you hear the dean speak of all their accomplishments,” said Hiralall.

Eric Goldscheider can be reached at eric.goldscheider@gmail.com.