UMass Amherst Class of 2012 Celebrates Graduation, Hears Legendary Journalist Ted Koppel Critique Age of Instant Communication

AMHERST, Mass. - Amid breezy spring weather, approximately 5,000 candidates received bachelor’s degrees during today’s 142nd undergraduate Commencement of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A crowd of 20,000 heard Commencement speaker Ted Koppel critique today’s instant and constant connectivity, saying he fears it may undermine the nation’s ability to address pressing problems.

Koppel, a legendary, award-winning journalist observed, "If we are going to deal intelligently with the problems we confront, we need time to pause, to consider and reflect. But our media, news and social, are intolerant of anything but an instant response. We are making and receiving endless observations about the trivial, and believe that we are communicating. I am left with a feeling of not just great opportunities missed, but with a sense of actual danger to our republic."

He urged today’s graduates to want "more substance . . . more real information about important issues; more fairness, more objectivity; more tolerance for views that differ from your own. More time to reflect and consider." Above all, he encouraged a greater understanding that while modern communication devices are extraordinary, they remain nothing more than tools. "You have a truly magical array of media at your disposal. Use them well."

UMass Amherst’s Chancellor Robert C. Holub presided at the Commencement ceremony held at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium, and UMass President Robert Caret conferred the degrees.

In his address, Holub said today’s graduates know the world is not a stable place, yet "no matter what your background and lineage, this is the truth of commencement for everyone: What you have earned today, your degree, is yours forever. No one can ever take your education from you."

Also at the ceremony, alumnus Eugene M. Isenberg received the Legacy of Leadership Award, honoring visionary individuals who have led organizations to new heights of achievement and demonstrated a strong belief in the importance of public service, social diversity and improving the quality of life for all. Isenberg, one of UMass Amherst’s most generously supportive alumni, recently ended a long tenure as president of the UMass Amherst Foundation.

This year’s Distinguished Achievement Awards went to Ronald M. Ansin and alumnus Edward D. Shirley for high accomplishment in a given field or profession and notable contributions to society. Ansin is a successful businessman and philanthropist who supports the arts, legal, health and social service groups. The current chair of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, he has served as the state commissioner of commerce and development and is active on statewide boards and councils.

Shirley was recently named president and chief executive officer of Bacardi Ltd. He joined the company after retiring as a vice chairman at Procter & Gamble. He spent six years with P&G and 27 years with the Gillette Company where he negotiated with the Kraft family for naming rights at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots and now UMass football.

The student speaker was senior Isaac Himmelman of Santa Monica, Calif., who majored in political science and minored in Judaic and Near Eastern Studies. A boxer and pianist, Himmelman’s passion for performance led him to work with the Daniel Pearl Foundation, where he helped coordinate its second annual world-music festival. He plans a career in television and film performance and writing.

Thirteen graduates, 12 from Commonwealth Honors College, were honored as 21st Century Leaders for far-ranging achievement, initiative and social awareness. They are psychology major Hannah "Rivka" Dolberg Barrett of Lexington; accounting and psychology major Daniel K. Burke of Sandwich; biology and psychology major Maheen Chaudhry of Hadley; legal studies and political science major Caitlin R. Ellis of Billerica; mechanical engineering major Andrew Erwin of Mansfield; microbiology major Tara A. Mahendrarajah of Framingham; music major John I. Mange, Jr. of North Andover; finance major Michael McDonough of Woburn; public health sciences major Yevin Roh of Dorchester; social justice and conflict resolution major Erica Rothschild of Riverdale, N.Y.; microbiology major Christopher M. Roy of Berlin, N.H., civil and environmental engineering and geology major Jose Enrique Torres-Cooban of Marietta, Ga., and music and psychology major Chia-Ying Wu of Taiwan.

This ninth annual 21st Century Leaders award was sponsored by the Chancellor’s Office and the UMass Amherst Alumni Association. Scholars receive a plaque and a money award from the alumni association. A reception for the student leaders and their families hosted by the chancellor followed the ceremony.

Six graduating seniors were recognized for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars. They are accounting and psychology major Daniel K. Burke of Sandwich; chemical engineering major Kevin Cunningham of Braintree; civil and environmental engineering major Rebecca F. Guihan of Melrose; computer systems engineering major Nicholas Jacek of Tyngsboro; operations and information management major Laura Surdek of West Roxbury, and accounting and economics major Patrick Witz of East Longmeadow.