Sen. Elizabeth Warren Urges Class of 2017 to be Engaged in Democracy as UMass Amherst Awards 5,500 Bachelor’s Degrees

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement
Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement
UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement
UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement
UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement
UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement

AMHERST, Mass. – At today’s Undergraduate Commencement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on the Class of 2017 to become engaged in policy issues because “it’s no longer possible to assume that democracy will work if most Americans simply wait until election time to learn a little about the candidates and otherwise ignore what’s going on.”

Warren delivered the commencement address as about 20,000 family members, friends and other guests cheered the approximately 5,500 graduates who received their bachelor’s degrees under sunny skies.

Warren said, “If democracy for you simply means leaving it to others, letting others set the terms of political debates, and surrendering the policy decisions to people in faraway Washington, then our country will work better and better for a smaller and smaller number of people. But if democracy for you means connecting up, studying, making hard decisions and defending them with intelligence and commitment, then this country will flourish.”

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy presided at the ceremony held at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

“The Class of 2017 is graduating during one of the most exciting eras in the history of the university,” said Subbaswamy. “In recent years, our campus has experienced unprecedented momentum, ascending in the national rankings further than any other university. We are – by almost any measure – the fastest rising major public research institution in the country.”  

The chancellor reminded the graduates to be open-minded and tolerant of other viewpoints, but to recognize the difference between opinions and facts. “We should listen to differing perspectives, especially the ones we think we may not agree with. And, we should carefully examine the supporting evidence,” he said. “UMass has given you the tools to pursue truth. I hope you continue to use them as you make your way into the world.”

During the ceremony, jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan, a longtime faculty member at UMass Amherst’s Jazz in July program, was awarded an honorary doctor of fine arts degree. Now 88, Jordan began singing semi-professionally in her teens and made her first recordings in the 1960s. She continues to perform, write and teach and has been recognized for her career achievements by the Kennedy Center and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The student speaker was Conor James O’Kelly of Ipswich, a communication major and English minor who plans to pursue a career in the entertainment industry with a focus on writing and producing films and television programs.

O’Kelly told his classmates, “Always remember that wherever you are in this vast world of ours, you are loved. Whether it is by your significant other, a friend, a family member or even a small case of loving yourself, you are truly loved.”

Saying he arrived at the university as a pessimist, O’Kelly said he’s leaving with a renewed sense of hope for the future. He concluded, “This world was not meant for those who simply wish to live the dream. It was meant for those who wish to change the dream.”

Ten graduates were honored as 21st Century Leaders for far-ranging achievement, initiative and social awareness. They are: Meghan Berry, a public health from Petersham;Ryan Boyden, a double major in physics and astronomy from Leominster; Victor K. Champagne III of Dudley, who majored in mechanical engineering; Lauren Coakley, a political science major from Leominster;Bailey Ingalls, a double major in chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology from Laguna Niguel, Calif.;Karen Li, an operations and information management major from Winchester; Heather MacLean, a psychology major from Danvers; Miguel Angel Paredes, a theater major from Amherst; Rebecca Kim-Hong Toohey, a microbiology major from Worcester, and Jessica Alice Cierra Williams of Rockport, a double major in communication and philosophy with a minor in sociology.

Three graduating seniors were recognized for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars. They are Victor K. Champagne III, from Dudley, a mechanical engineering major; Elizabeth M. Imbrogna, of Littleton, a marketing and communication major, and James M. Prescott, an electrical engineering major from Mashpee.