AMHERST, Mass. - Under bright sun and clear blue skies, a total of 4,172 University of Massachusetts undergraduates received bachelor''s degrees in nearly 100 majors during the school''s 128th Commencement held this morning in Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
Award-winning national broadcast journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault delivered the principal speech. Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine, independent chairman of the peace talks in Northern Ireland, addressed the graduates as well. Mitchell said that with the overwhelming vote to ratify the peace agreement, the people of Northern Ireland have taken a decisive step toward "peace, political stability, and reconciliation." Both Hunter-Gault and Mitchell also received honorary degrees.
Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci delivered the greetings of the commonwealth, saying, "Our state University is stronger than ever." He called UMass "one of the premier state universities in the country," and urged the new graduates to "be proud of it."
UMass President William M. Bulger conferred the degrees, reminding the members of the class of 1998 that they were privileged to become members of the small minority of the world’s population – less than 1 percent – that is college-educated.
Chancellor David K. Scott presided over the ceremony. He told the graduates to nourish their learning and never neglect it. "Stay connected – to family, friends, society, learning, and to this University," he said.
Hunter-Gault, who now reports from South Africa, where she resides, encouraged graduates to make their way in the world with the "confidence and joy" which will enable them to overcome obstacles and get through difficult times. Strength and spirituality gave her a solid sense of self-worth, Hunter-Gault said, when she entered the University of Georgia as its first black woman student "and was confronted with a rioting mob throwing bricks through my window and threatening to kill me." She said that even in the grimmest of situations, including the famine in the southern Sudan, and the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda, there are "miracles of wonder."
Telling graduates that they would become "the architects of a new 21st century- world that we will all want to live in," Hunter-Gault quoted writer Zora Neal Hurston in encouraging the class to "go into the world in search of your new neighbors and find out why it is important to the world that you meet them and they meet you …You have the gifts of your knowledge, culture, and values to share and so do they."
Mitchell personalized the importance of the Northern Ireland peace accor d for the undergraduates by saying: "After so many deaths, so many funerals, so much fear, grief, and hatred, there is today hope in Northern Ireland, especially for young people – just like you – who have never known anything but violence."
Mitchell further added that while the conflicts in Northern Ireland, and other regions such as Bosnia and the Middle East, might seem far away, "they are relevant to all Americans, and to you graduates … so tonight when you’re done celebrating, take a moment to thank God for being Americans … for living in the most free, most open, most just society in human history."
Student Commencement speaker was industrial engineering major Jean Marie Maranville of Tewksbury. She told her classmates that "no one should graduate with the belief that they know it all or that they are finished learning," but that with the knowledge they have gained during their college years, "today’s University of Massachusetts graduates will be unstoppable."
In addition to Hunter-Gault and Mitchell, the University also awarded honorary degrees to University alumnus Richard A. Goldstein, president and CEO of Unilever United States Inc.; Mathilde Krim, founding co-chair and chairman of the board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research; and former Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld.