2019 Remarks by Chancellor Subbaswamy at Graduate Commencement

Prepared Remarks by Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy
Graduate School Commencement
Friday, May 10, 2019
Mullins Center, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Good morning! Welcome to Graduate Commencement. It’s wonderful to see all the families and friends who traveled near and far for this joyous occasion. Thank you for joining us.   

And of course, “Congratulations!” to the Graduate Class of 2019.  

This morning we celebrate our revolutionary commitment to exploration and innovation – a commitment that runs deep at the university. For more than 150 years, our faculty, students and alumni have consistently challenged conventional wisdom in the quest to spark discovery, expand knowledge, and create a more just society. 

The revolutionary spirit is nowhere more visible than in the Graduate School, where alumni and students routinely engage in groundbreaking research and become leading innovators across the globe.  

For while you come from varied backgrounds and pursue myriad professional specializations, all of you now join other university alumni in sharing a common commitment to shattering intellectual and social barriers. 

You join Victor Bahl, PhD, Class of ‘97, a leading authority on networking technologies, founder of the Mobility and Networking Research Group at Microsoft, and an inventor holding more than 150 patents. 

You join Unita Blackwell, Graduate Class of ‘83, the daughter of sharecroppers who became the first African American woman to be elected mayor of a town in Mississippi.  

And Cady Coleman, PhD, Class of ’91, who is one of only fifty female astronauts to have travelled in outer space. 

Gail Collins, Class of ‘79, a newspaper columnist and the first woman in the 170-year history of the New York Times to serve as editorial page editor. 

You join Russell Alan Hulse, who received his PhD in 1975 and invented a new type of telescope as a UMass graduate student. This invention opened new possibilities for the study of gravitation and led to his receipt of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics.   

You also join Hina Rabbani Khar, class of ’02, the first woman to serve as foreign minister of Pakistan and an influential voice in shaping her country’s economic, budgetary and foreign policy.  

And Kang Kyung-wha, a 1984 PhD recipient, and the first woman to serve as South Korea’s foreign minister. Kyung-wha has been a key figure in international efforts to stabilize the Korean Peninsula by denuclearizing North Korea.  

You join Akshaya Shanmugam, who earned her PhD in 2016 and was named to the Forbes “30 Under 30” list for her groundbreaking research in developing cutting-edge biotechnology to help fight destructive forms of addiction.   

And, Natasha Trethewey, class of 1995 and former U.S. Poet Laureate, whose visionary writing synthesizes personal experience with public history to explore the crushing impact of racial injustice in contemporary American society.  

Today, as you join this group and the many other trailblazing UMass alumni, I am confident you will add to these stories of intellectual courage and innovation. My optimism is well-founded, given the outstanding record of teaching and scholarly accomplishment you have already amassed at the university.  

This year, more than one hundred of you were nominated by your undergraduate students for the Distinguished Teaching Award. In their letters of support, our undergraduates movingly attested to the transformative influence you have had on their lives, opening new intellectual horizons and encouraging them to realize their full potential.    

Your talents are further displayed in the hundreds of journal articles you publish each year, and the campus conferences showcasing your research. You have impressed and inspired the campus community with your ambition, creativity, and intellectual rigor. 

Predictions of your continued success are also supported by the staggering number of prestigious national awards you have recently received.  

In April, nine graduate students were selected for National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, the premier national award given to doctoral students in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. This total gives us the top ranking for public universities in New England, and within Massachusetts, we are #3 among all colleges and universities, trailing only Harvard and MIT.   

Earlier this semester, five of you won Fulbright Scholarships, the most prestigious award sponsored by the federal government for international study. This accomplishment once again helped establish the university as a top national producer of Fulbright Scholars, a distinction we earned in four of the past five years. 

Other highly coveted awards you earned this year include grants and fellowships from National Geographic; the Ford Foundation; the Social Science Council; Google; Microsoft; IBM; and the Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies 

All of these honors are widely recognized markers of future leadership that resoundingly point to your continued excellence and success. 

This morning, as you commence with the next phase of your life, I know you will continue the revolutionary spirit of the university as you challenge conventional wisdom; pioneer new discovery; and strive for a more just society.  

Wherever your journey brings you, please remember to come back and visit often. You are a part of the UMass Amherst family and we look forward to hearing your stories of continued success. 

Congratulations to the Graduate School class of 2019!   

Thank you and GO UMASS!