UMass Amherst Commencement to Honor Outstanding Graduates as 21st Century Leaders

Commencement 2016

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst will honor the exemplary achievement, initiative and leadership of some of its most talented and accomplished graduating seniors during Undergraduate Commencement on Friday, May 6 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Ten members of the graduating class will be honored as 21st Century Leaders at Undergraduate Commencement:

  • Jennifer Antocci of Westminster is a double major in public health and communication. As a drum major with the Minuteman Marching Band who provided mentoring to incoming drum majors, she also served as a teaching assistant, taught a group fitness class, competed with the ballroom dance team and interned with the March of Dimes. She will return to the campus to complete a master of public health degree with a concentration in community health education.
  • Sïonan Barrett, a journalism major from Redondo Beach, Calif., was president of the Student Government Association for 2015-16. A well-known public speaker on campus, she co-founded the SGA Women’s Leadership Conference, and has worked to engage other students in advocacy and leadership. She has volunteered with the community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and served as resident assistant for three years. She hopes to become on-air news reporter in a growing market on the West Coast.
  • Gregory Barysky, from Methuen, majored in psychology with a mathematics minor. Long interested in depression and suicide prevention, he organized the Out of Darkness Walk, which raised over $10,000. In addition to his work as a teaching assistant and a variety of community service work, he is president of the executive board of the National Residence Hall Honorary, an international organization advocating for residence hall students. He is also a longtime UMass Transit driver and dispatcher and plans to pursue a master in social work degree.
  • Samantha Giffen is a double major in public health and microbiology from Millstone Township, N.J., who has made substantial contribution to infectious disease research on campus and beyond. A member of the integrated concentration in science and international studies programs, she has studied in South Africa and India, and was named a Goldwater Scholar. She will enter a Ph.D. program in biological sciences in public health at Harvard.
  • Kevin Harrington, from Hyannis, is a double major in astronomy and psychology and brain sciences with a minor in Afro-American studies. Using the new Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico, he led the discovery of a set of galaxies that are the most luminous objects yet discovered in the universe. He has also performed widely as percussionist for the New Africa House ensemble. He will begin a Ph.D. program at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.
  • Ritika Kumar, an economics major from Lowell, has advocated tirelessly on behalf of students’ interests as attorney general of the Student Government Association. She also served as an intern to U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas and as a representative to Gov. Deval Patrick’s Statewide Youth Council. She plans to attend law school and to serve underrepresented and underprivileged people.
  • Soun Heang Lee, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Lynn, maintained the highest academic record with extensive experience in the classroom and in mentoring as a teaching assistant. In addition, he has studied at MIT and Oxford, and is the founding president of the UMass Chapter of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers. He will pursue a Ph.D. in biological and medical sciences at Harvard.
  • Michael Nicholson is a political science and history major from Gardner. He has earned a certificate in public policy and administration and one in international relations. He also has been an active member of the history honors society and a peer mentor. He is a drum major with the Minuteman Marching Band, and marched in the 2013 Macy’s Parade. He is currently enrolled in the accelerated master of public policy program at UMass Amherst.
  • Abdifatah Omar is a biology and psychology major from Auburn, Maine, whose extraordinary leadership within the Muslim community as a resident assistant and as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer to promote positive relations between religious groups has benefited the community as a whole. In his pursuit of neurosciences, he was a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital. After graduating, he will be working as a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital.
  • Matthew Sparks, a civil and environmental engineering major from Mililani, Hawaii, has maintained a top grade point average while remaining a stand-out offensive lineman for the UMass Amherst football team for four years, mentoring students at the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club and helping to provide meals at the Soldiers Home in Holyoke. He will work at the engineering consulting firm of Tighe & Bond, taking on water and wastewater issues.