Marcellette G. Williams was Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2001-2002.
This is an archive of the Chancellor's Web site during her tenure.



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Marcellette G. Williams
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Professor of English and
Comparative Literature

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What Will You Say?

Remarks from the New Student Convocation, September 2, 2001


Have you heard? Our family is growing...our UMass Family is growing...thanks to all of you. On behalf of the University let me say an official WELCOME TO UMASS! To you, the class of 2005 – among the largest in recent memory, we say WELCOME to the UMass Family!

The beginning of the academic year means many things: settling into your residence rooms; meeting new floormates and classmates from across the state and around the world; choosing classes; buying books; and finding the right buildings. Each new relationship, each new conversation is an opportunity to enter an undiscovered world of meaning.

It’s a thrilling time – next to being born, it is perhaps one of the biggest periods of change in our lives. In a sense, it is a time of birth. On one level it is about the birth of a new identity – or perhaps a new dimension of an already established identity – from the person you were in high school, from the person familiar to your family and friends, you will change – GROW – during your time here, growing into a newer person – realizing hidden talents, expressing new facets of your personality, exploring societal and political concerns – some perhaps you had never thought about before. Each moment of your time here – beginning from your first conversation with someone who seems so different from the people you know from home – each moment is a moment of change, of growth, and, paradoxically, each moment is a moment in which you are becoming, more fully, more richly, who you are. AT the University of Massachusetts, we are here to help you change...to help you grow...in order that you may become your fullest, highest self – a person who can contribute to building a better world for all people.

On another level, this moment is a time of birth into a new family. With your entry into the class of 2005, you join the University family, a family that spans the globe and spans the spectrum of human difference. You may be familiar with some members of our family already – our family album includes luminaries like Richard Gere, Bill Cosby, Julius Erving (Dr. "J"). It also includes the CEO’s of General Motors, Jack Smith; of General Electric, Jack Welch; and of Monster.Com, Jeff Taylor – who, by the way, just completed his degree last year.

And there are some other members of the family that I’d like to introduce you to:

From the Sciences:

Catherine (Cady) Coleman: Cady is an Air Force Lt. Colonel, Ph.D. in polymer science astronaut. Cady says her education at UMASS literally took her toward the stars. She said she learned that horizons were limitless. Cady most recently served as lead mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia on a mission to deploy the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. You should have heard Cady recently right here on this campus talking about her experiences here both inside and outside the classroom. She is an animated about those experiences as she is the over 500 hours in space she has logged so far and in establishing endurance and tolerance records practicing in a NASA centrifuge that simulates high G forces;

and what about Matt Golombek? You’ve read about him and seen him on the news, as he went to Mars by remote control. Matt earned his degrees in geology from UMass, specializing in the geology of astral bodies. Matt was the principal scientist for NASA’s Pathfinder mission to Mars, when Pathfinder landed on the Red Planet in 1997. Remember, the Pathfinder spacecraft, only 3 feet tall, traveled 119 million miles before reaching Mars, carrying the Sojourner robot which sent messages back to earth. And to think, Matt Golombek was one of three UMass grads on the Pathfinder team!

From the Arts:

Tsiddii Le Loka was born in Lesotha, a tiny nation tucked within South Africa.. Tsiddii grew up listening to the radio since in the Apartheid era most black families had no access to television. She had a passion for music and became a performer in South Africa before coming to UMass in 1991 to study economics and music. You should hear her tell about the day on campus she received a phone call from New York, inviting her to audition for a new musical, the Lion King. She got the part, of course, and was nominated for a Tony award for her inspiring performance. Tsiddii describes the rich experiences of her time here at UMass as experiences that prepared her to perform all the better – not just because of her musical education here but also because of the passions and enthusiasms with which she and her classmates engaged a wide variety of things here on campus and in the area;

Then there is Buffy Sainte-Marie, born on a Cree reservation in Saskatchewan, Canada. We know her songs – "Up Where We Belong," "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" – these and others have been recorded by Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, Tracy Chapman, Elvis Presley. Buffy has a Ph.D. in Fine Arts from UMass. Her experiences here on the campus have encouraged her in her music but also in her passions about the rights and well-being of native peoples. Buffy established the Cradleboard Teaching Project linking native and non-native students across Canada;

Taj Mahal, whose album of the same name we recognize, actually graduated with a degree in agriculture and animal husbandry! Though he didn’t actually use the degree itself in his extraordinary music career – he plays over 20 instruments and has recorded 36 albums and earned 6 Grammy nominations in a musical range stretching from blues to Caribbean, rock to jazz – Taj Mahal’s recollections of his time on campus are vivid and involved, remaining much a part of his recollections and living;

From Sports:

And Brianna Scurry? Her hands are gold! In 1996, Brianna led the U.S. Women’s soccer team to their Olympic gold medal in Atlanta, and in 1999, she protected the goal in overtime to help win the World Cup against China. Considered for years to be the best goalkeeper in American women’s soccer, Brianna graduated from UMass with a degree in political science in 1995. You should hear her talk about her time here at UMass – a fully active time during which she led the women’s soccer team to the NCAA semifinals and the Atlantic 10 championship.

I’ll bet some of you have even seen Danielle Henderson play softball. When she graduated in 1999 she was on her way to playing on the gold-medal winning women’s softball team in the 2000- Sydney Olympics. Although she just graduated in 1999, she is the first female athlete to have her number retired at UMass. While she was here, she led her team to 2 College World Series appearances and pitched 105 consecutive scoreless innings. She’s here on campus – now as the assistant coach of the UMass women’s softball team – so you may get a chance to see here up close – "family like," as she gets ready for the 2004 Olympics.

___

I’ve just given you a sampling of some of the portraits in the UMass Family album – all are fascinating, richly talented people who are still invigorated by their UMass experiences. What each of them has in common is the fact that they describe their experiences at UMASS--both in and outside the classroom-- as experiences that stretched their imaginations about life’s possibilities for themselves and for others. What will you say when, in 2010 or 2015 or 2020 you think of your life and your experiences at UMass? What will you say? What will you say?

I have elaborated on some of these portraits because I believe it is, in part, our responsibility to urge you to participate fully in the many opportunities your UMass experience will offer. I have used the metaphor of a family, and I have used it intentionally. Just as parents are responsible for enabling their children to engage life successfully without their constant support and guidance, so are we as the educational parents responsible for enabling your thriving in the world – so that you might bring to bear on all you do in the future all that has constituted your UMass education.

[We are the UMass family...the UMass community: a community where together we agree to live in a vital and constructive interdependency; where people matter; where there is a tacit agreement to create opportunities and seek solutions to challenges together; where growth in one part of the community enhances vitality in another; where together we commit and recommit to identifying and living shared values.]

Well, class of 2005, sooner than you realize you will be among the alumni of this University, and we will be telling new students coming to this University something about your lives and how the experiences at UMass have and continue to keep them vital. Yes, the alumni have responsibilities to the family, too. They are proud to carry on the traditions that strengthen the UMass family name. They advocate for and support the University in many ways – as will you...particularly if you heed our urgings and invitations to engage fully the range of experiences here at UMass. What will you say? What will you say? What will you say? I say to you as you begin this relationship with your Alma Mater: "Go UMass!"