More than 1,800 Advanced Degrees Conferred at UMass Amherst’s Graduate Commencement Ceremonies

College of Education graduate students celebrate before the 2017 Graduate Commencement ceremony.
College of Education graduate students celebrate before the 2017 Graduate Commencement ceremony.

AMHERST, Mass. – The Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts Amherst conferred 1,821 doctoral and master’s degrees this morning at a Commencement ceremony that drew more than 1,000 graduates, along with approximately 3,500 family members and friends, to the William D. Mullins Memorial Center.

A total of 373 doctoral degrees, 1,423 master’s degrees and 25 educational specialist degrees were awarded to graduates of 75 degree programs. Sixteen percent of the degree recipients were international students, representing more than 60 countries. Fifteen percent were African-American, Latino, Asian or Native American, and 49 percent were women.

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy told the graduates, “I have good reason to have confidence in you.”

The chancellor said that for the past three years, UMass Amherst graduate students have helped make the university one of the nations’ leading producers of Fulbright Scholars, at a rate “that doubles and in some cases triples the success rate of students from other leading public and private universities.”

“And for the second consecutive year, graduate students have helped make UMass Amherst a top-three producer of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships in the Commonwealth, along with Harvard and MIT,” he said.

Subbaswamy cited “the astonishing variety of nationally or internationally prominent awards” recently won by UMass Amherst graduate students. “Although this list is incredibly impressive, it only begins to hint at the outstanding contributions all graduate students make to the university and to the country through your remarkable analytical and creative talents,” he said.

 “We only need to look at some of our distinguished alumni to anticipate the contributions you will make in the world,” he said.

Among those he cited were Unita Blackwell, a MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and the first African-American woman elected mayor in Mississippi; Ben Cherington, former Red Sox GM and architect of the 2013 World Series championship team; astronaut Cady Coleman, who has traveled 70,000,000 miles in space; economist Thomas Herndon, who as a graduate student debunked worldwide economic dogma on austerity policies; Russell Alan Hulse, who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics for work conducted as a doctoral student; and former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Tretheway.

“As members of the Graduate Class of 2017, you now join this impressive group of alumni,” he said.

Subbaswamy also praised John J. McCarthy, the outgoing five-year dean of the Graduate School, as a visionary leader.

“John McCarthy has had a transformative impact on the Graduate School, positioning it as an essential component of the university’s graduate education and research enterprises,” Subbaswamy said.

McCarthy, addressing the degree recipients for the last time as dean, noted the record number of degree recipients in attendance and praised them for the thousands of undergraduates they taught, for their laboratory work and for their research. “We salute you for these accomplishments,” he said.

UMass President Martin T. Meehan noted the high quality of the record 74,500 students in the university system. “The excellence all starts with the flagship right here in Amherst,” he said.

Meehan noted the worldwide origins of the class of 2017. “The strength of the university will always include great faculty and great students, and they come from all around the world,” he said.

UMass Trustee James Buonomo challenged the degree recipients “to be bold in your life choices, understanding that you’re not limited to the singularity of the life of bees, simply working day in and day out to pollinate small circles of opportunity.”

He said the world is rapidly changing. “Our planet, its politics and people need visionary and courageous leaders like you,” he said.

“This great university has produced titans of the business world, fashion designers, famous athletes, scientist and astronauts, but none, no not one, has the potential to affect the world the way that you do,” Buonomo said.

Distinguished Graduate Mentor Awards went to Donald Towsley, Distinguished Professor of computer science, Tilman Wolf, professor of electrical and computer engineering and senior associate dean of the College of Engineering, and Naomi Gerstel, Distinguished Professor of sociology.

Distinguished Teaching Awards were presented to writing program instructor Yedalis Ruiz of the Citizen Scholars Program and Shakuntala Ray of the social thought and political economy department. The Distinguished Graduate Staff Award went to Mary Lashway of the history department.