Commencement stage

10 UMass Amherst Undergraduates to be Honored as 21st Century Leaders at Commencement 2023

The University of Massachusetts Amherst will honor the exemplary achievements, initiative and leadership of some of its most talented and accomplished undergraduates and graduate students during Commencement 2023 on Friday, May 26 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

This year’s 10 undergraduate recipients of the 21st Century Leaders Award were chosen in recognition of their strong academic records and exemplary achievements. They also further distinguished themselves through intellectual accomplishments and will be recognized for the prestige and honor they bring to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, both as undergraduates and as alumni joining the larger community.

The 10 graduating seniors who will each receive a $1,000 21st Century Leaders Award from the UMass Amherst Alumni Association are:


Ashley Portrait

Ashley Yen Eng, of Brookline, a Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) student and microbiology major, thrived at UMass Amherst in an intensive research environment and demonstrated that being a scientist can coincide with meaningful advocacy.

In the lab of professor Kristen DeAngelis, Eng found her niche in microbial ecology, examining how climate change impacts soil microbes. She presented this work at national conferences and was selected for a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship in 2022. She worked as a teaching assistant and learned bioinformatics skills, which enabled her to help design a new introductory bioinformatics course for the Department of Microbiology and participate in a competitive National Science Foundation-funded research and training program.

Eng is deeply involved in Brookline’s Asian and Asian American community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she developed a middle school curriculum to address the rise in anti-Asian racism. She then cofounded a campaign advocating for charter change in the town. She was elected to the Brookline Town Meeting in May 2022 as an equity-based candidate.

After Commencement, Eng will work as a research associate in an infectious disease lab at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She hopes to obtain a Ph.D. in microbiology or bioinformatics and will continue her activism for equity in science.


Joash Portrait

Joash Elijah Audrey Gabriel, a CHC student, was born in the Philippines and grew up in Peabody. She has earned dual degrees in microbiology and public health and completed a certificate in the iCons (Integrated Concentration in STEM) program, all while balancing three on-campus jobs.

At UMass Amherst, Gabriel demonstrated a combination of academic excellence, unstoppable drive and a deep sense of social justice. A strong advocate for the rights of survivors of sexual violence on campus, her collaboration with fellow student leaders and administrators was instrumental in the ratification and implementation of a campus Survivor’s Bill of Rights. She continued her efforts to create a safer and more just campus as the Student Government Association’s first secretary of health and wellbeing.

In addition, Gabriel surmounted considerable bureaucratic hurdles to help found the Filipino Student Association, a cultural organization created to promote Filipino culture and heritage which now boasts more than 200 members.

Concurrent with her campus advocacy, she completed independent research through the iCons program. Her cutting-edge investigation into quantified PFAS chemical contaminants in breast milk will have public health ramifications.

After Commencement, Gabriel will take a gap year to return to the Philippines, work in healthcare, and apply to medical school. She would like to practice in medically underserved communities and eventually open a reproductive health clinic.


Jakob Portrait

Jakob Gokey, of Boxford, has earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in international relations. He completed several semesters of his studies while on active duty for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, Qatar and Kuwait.

Gokey joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard while still in high school. Before his deployment to the Middle East, he chose to enroll in University Without Walls at UMass Amherst in order to continue his education remotely while serving his country. During the 2021 emergency Afghanistan airlift, Gokey was an operator of an anti-mortar and rocket system that defended the Kabul airport. He was awarded the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and an Army Commendation Medal for exceptionally meritorious service in a combat environment.

Upon his return from the Middle East, Gokey attended classes in person and worked to assist other military-affiliated students in the difficult transition from military life to a college campus. He founded a Student Veterans of America chapter at UMass Amherst and serves as campus secretary of veteran’s affairs.

Gokey is currently pursuing his master’s degree in public policy at UMass Amherst. He plans to embark on a federal career in public policy with the goal of specializing in emergency operations.


Darya Portrait

Darya Iranmanesh, of Lexington, completed her bachelor of science degree in public health in just two years and graduates with a near-perfect GPA. Iranmanesh’s accomplishment is all the more laudable because she is partially blind due to a rare genetic eye disease and dedicated herself to activism as well as scholastics at UMass Amherst.

Iranmanesh believes strongly in fighting for disability justice. She is a frequent writer and speaker on the subject and has spoken at the Massachusetts State House and for Understanding Our Differences, a Massachusetts initiative that seeks to mandate disability inclusion education for elementary school students. She has been featured in the media, including in the Wall Street Journal and on “Good Morning America.”

Devoted to her heritage, she was president of the Persian Students Association. In this role, she helped organize a campus rally for women’s rights in Iran and brought attention to the struggles of the Iranian people in the campus community. Iranmanesh also held research internships at the Global Liver Institute and Global Public Health Linkages in the Washington, D.C., area, and was a course assistant for an epidemiology class.

She will attend Boston University School of Public Health to attain her master’s in public health and hopes to subsequently earn a doctoral degree, perhaps in law.


Tasneem Portrait

Tasneem Kelly, of West Springfield, earned degrees in both operations and information management and political science, as well as a certificate in business analytics. Kelly has been an exceptional advocate for student engagement and inclusivity, making a lasting impact on the student community through her leadership and dedication.

Upon arriving at UMass, Kelly found her community in the Muslim Students Association (MSA). Eager to help others feel the same sense of belonging, she pursued a leadership role, ultimately becoming events coordinator on the MSA executive board. In this role, Kelly organized religious and social events to create a welcoming environment.

As the secretary of diversity, equity and inclusion of the Student Government Association (SGA), Kelly partnered with fellow leaders to successfully advocate for a permanent prayer space for Muslim students and expanded halal food options in the dining commons. Her dedication to promoting inclusivity reached new heights when she organized the university’s first-ever Multicultural Night, which brought together over 450 students in celebration of diversity and culture.

Kelly’s academic achievements include selection as a 2022 Fellow for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ SBS in DC program, a 2023 Fellow for UMass Women into Leadership, and induction into Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society. Following her graduation, she will join Grant Thornton LLP in Boston as a risk advisory analyst.


Kitty Portrait

Kathryne “Kitty” Olivia Lovell, of Westford, a CHC student, graduates with a degree in civil and environmental engineering.

Throughout her four years at UMass Amherst, Lovell was the driving force behind transformative community building activities in the College of Engineering. In her first year, eager to increase female participation in the organization, she became vice president of the university’s Associated General Contractors (AGC) chapter. In two years of AGC leadership, she promoted impactful activities highlighting diversity, equity and inclusion in the construction industry.

Later, as president of UMass Engineers Without Borders, Lovell collaborated with other engineering groups to organize the first annual engineering formal at UMass Amherst, which sold out. She also spearheaded a new local volunteer project that brings funding, engineering expertise and labor to organizations in need. As a senior, Lovell successfully led a group to lobby for funds for unconscious bias and microaggression training for engineering students and faculty.

Lovell’s commitment to positive change culminated in her unconventional honors thesis: “Engineering Education: An Evolution, a Revolution,” through which she is coordinating and documenting initiatives to foster a sense of community and belonging in the College of Engineering.

Upon graduation, she will work as an engineer at Woodard & Curran in Northampton, Mass., and remain involved in public policy while addressing environmental challenges through engineering.


Shayan Portrait

Shayan Raza, of Needham, a CHC student, double majored in legal studies and economics. Raza emerged as an exceptional leader, athlete and scholar at UMass, ultimately securing his place as student body president. In his first year, Raza competed for the debate society and powerlifting team, eventually serving on the executive board for both organizations. During his tenure, he helped transform the debate society into an internationally competitive program and led UMass Powerlifting to victory in its first Massachusetts Collegiate Cup. Raza claimed third place at the 2021 Massachusetts Powerlifting State Championship. Through his involvement in various Registered Student Organizations (RSOs), Raza became deeply invested in the Student Government Association (SGA). He oversaw the large-scale operation to move RSOs into the newly built Student Union, modernized the RSO application process and founded the SGA Equity Fund, a grant program that advances the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion mission.

As SGA president, Raza led the renewal of the litigation authority of the Student Legal Services Office and represented the Student Body on the search committee for a new chancellor. Under Raza's leadership, the SGA re-established a culture of social responsibility, inclusivity and excellence. Before attending law school, he will join Ropes & Gray LLP in Boston as a corporate program paralegal.


Clare Portrait

Clare Sheedy, of Pittsfield, earned double majors in public health and in women, gender, sexuality studies and a Five College certificate in reproductive health, rights and justice. She is renowned on campus for her effectiveness in a plethora of leadership positions connected to social justice and social progress.

Among her many accomplishments, Sheedy is proudest of being a guest lecturer for a Stanford Law School course on the law, politics and policy of campus sexual assault and for giving a related TEDx talk about sexual violence. These talks were informed by her extensive activism at UMass. She was a founding member of the student-led Title IX Task Force, which pushed for change in sexual misconduct policies and processes, and she subsequently played a crucial role in the implementation of the campus Survivor’s Bill of Rights.

Sheedy was elected speaker of the SGA and selected as a 2022 UMass Women into Leadership Fellow. She served on numerous advisory boards and volunteered as a counselor advocate at the Center for Women & Community and as a peer health educator while also working at several campus jobs.

She will study for a master’s degree in public administration in human rights and humanitarian policy at Columbia University in New York City.


Yuki Portrait

Sao Myat Thazin “Yuki” Thane, of Yangon, Myanmar, double majored in informatics and communication.

During the peak of the pandemic in her sophomore year, Thane was studying remotely from Myanmar. She was working full time as an English teacher and part time in a digital marketing internship when a February 2021 military coup brought social and economic chaos to the country. With access to the internet severely limited, she nevertheless completed her studies and maintained dean’s list-level grades.

Upon her return to campus, Thane was determined to raise awareness about Myanmar and build community. She helped found and became co-president of the first recognized Myanmar Student Association at UMass Amherst. Deeply involved in campus life, she wrote for the online magazine “Her Campus.” She was a peer mentor and undergraduate course assistant in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences and worked in the college’s Office of Diversity and Inclusive Community Development. She was a robotics mentor for the UMass Massenberg STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Institute, teaching and organizing projects for middle school and high school students to enhance their interest in STEM. She won an alumni scholarship for her contributions to campus.

Thane has been accepted into the master’s degree program in business analytics at UMass Amherst.


JJ Portrait

John “JJ” Wilson, of Monson, earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing, and has already made an extraordinary contribution toward saving lives.

A recruitment ad prompted Wilson to sign up for the Gift of Life public bone marrow and blood stem cell registry. Excited by the life-saving potential of the registry, he then decided to motivate fellow students to sign up. To pull off his week-long campus drive in October 2022, he recruited 100 student volunteers and worked tirelessly with administration, the College of Nursing and the Amherst Fire Department. At the drive’s conclusion, more than 3,100 people had been swabbed— by far the largest-ever collegiate drive for Gift of Life. The drive has resulted in one successful transplant and 24 preliminary matches to date. Wilson is working with a fellow nursing student to make the drive an annual campus event and increase the registry’s diversity.

An exceptionally hard worker and selfless leader, Wilson served as an EMS captain in the Amherst Fire Department Student Force and as a firefighter and EMT for the Monson Fire Department. He graduated from the Massachusetts Fire Academy during the pandemic and worked as a campus COVID-19 vaccinator.

Wilson plans to work in the pediatric emergency room at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, pursue his paramedic license and continue his service as a firefighter.