AMHERST, Mass. - When Robert Shulman returned to college and entered the same department at the University of Massachusetts where his daughter Sara was already a student, Sara joked, "My father is following in my footsteps."
When the two receive their diplomas during the University''s Commencement exercises May 25, each is expected to graduate summa cum laude and pursue a career in social justice.
"Sara and Robert are outstanding students and illustrate the way the University can serve the community on a variety of levels," says David Lenson, director of the comparative literature department''s undergraduate program. "Both a non-traditional older student like Robert and a more traditional younger student like Sara can excel at the University and design programs that serve their own needs."
When Sara transferred to UMass from Simon''s Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, she drew on courses in music, languages, and education to fulfill a dream of combining social work and teaching into a career. During her senior year, she worked in two AmeriCorps-related programs in Greenfield: one dealing with teens in general, and one more specifically with pregnant teens. Her father, on the other hand, entered UMass only after he saw through Sara''s example that school might be more hospitable than he once had imagined. A self-described "idealist" from the ''60s, Shulman had spent the past three decades studying on his own while making a living as a carpenter.
"Once Sara told me about her experiences at UMass I became intrigued and decided to pursue my growing interest in law," he says. "Through the interdisciplinary emphasis of the comparative literature department, I was able to combine traditional legal studies with more philosophical inquiries to create a program where I studied the ethical issues of the law."
Though the Shulmans never actually took classes together they could never fit their schedules together in some sense their graduation plans have finally made their paths merge. While her father will attend Western New England College with the goal of a career in legal advocacy for citizen''s rights, Sara will teach at Eaglebrook School in Deerfield with the hope of pursuing a social work career in the future.
The Shulmans'' social concern is a family tradition. As Sara said in the essay which earned her the University''s Humanitarian Award this year, "I grew up in the community of my family, learning socialist anthems from my grandmother and Native-American chants from my mother and aunt [a] sense of responsibility has been demonstrated to me by members of my family and several inspiring professors, and it is through their example that my vision is sustained."