Five Outstanding Graduating Seniors in HFA to be Honored as 21st Century Leaders at UMass Amherst Commencement Ceremonies
Monday, May 10, 2021
Monday, May 10, 2021
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 ceremonies taking place Friday, May 14 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Four smaller, socially distanced ceremonies will take place at 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The College of Humanities and Fine Arts will recognize graduating seniors during its virtual Senior Celebration, which will launch at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 14.
Ten members of the graduating class will be honored as 21st Century Leaders at Undergraduate Commencement, including five students with majors in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts:
Joanna Buoniconti of West Springfield, Mass., is a Commonwealth Honors College student who earned dual degrees in English, with a specialization in creative writing, and in journalism. While excelling at numerous challenging projects for her two writing-intense majors, including completing a book-length memoir, Buoniconti also made substantial contributions to student and local media. She joined the Amherst Wire, the journalism department’s online magazine, during her junior year and became managing editor. While in that role, she honed her voice in book reviews, reported on the pandemic and advised others how to navigate online learning. She achieved all of this, as she says, “without setting a wheel” on campus. With fragile health due to spinal muscular atrophy, Buoniconti attended all her classes via Zoom. She found ways to be a key contributor to class discussions and garnered respect from her professors for her hard work, talent and sensitive critiques of her classmates’ work. Off-campus, she interned at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and went on to write a monthly op-ed column there on disability advocacy issues. She plans to pursue work in book publishing or journalism.
James Andrew Cordero of Woburn, Mass., is graduating with degrees in English and in social thought and political economy, with a minor in education. A leader in multiple organizations, Cordero launched campaigns and built coalitions to make UMass more accessible and affordable to marginalized students. As co-chair of the Residential Assistant/Peer Mentor Union, he advocated for strong COVID-19 safety measures, secure student jobs and anti-racism training for all RAs and PMs. He fought alongside students at the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy for more equitable funding for public schools in Massachusetts, resulting in the passage of the 2019 Student Opportunity Act, and later lobbied for state funding for UMass throughout the pandemic. During two summers with Upward Bound, Cordero mentored college-bound students from Springfield’s High School of Commerce. He plans to teach full time, incorporating his philosophy of universal human dignity into his work, while he pursues a master’s degree in education through the UMass Amherst 180 Days in Springfield program.
Rania Marie Henriquez of Methuen, Mass., is a Commonwealth Honors College student who has earned dual degrees in women, gender and sexuality studies and political science. Henriquez came to UMass with the belief that art and community building can change the world. She became immediately active in Students of Caribbean Ancestry and the Black Student Union. She then extended her community activism, working in Springfield to support Hurricane Maria relief efforts and to help organize a youth-led rally advocating for gun control. In her sophomore year, her father, her most ardent supporter, died unexpectedly. Henriquez finished the semester strong and went on to a summer service learning program in Cape Town, South Africa, in his honor. She was a research assistant in political science, investigating indigenous communities’ resistance to natural resource extraction. She was an academic diversity fellow for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, supporting first-generation students and students of color. She is also a prolific poet. After graduation, Henriquez will merge her passion for social justice and her love of art as the first-ever community resource coordinator at Elevated Thought, a youth organization in Lawrence, that develops spaces for BIPOC youth and communities to engage and understand art.
Carla Montilla Jaimes of Doral, Fla., is a Commonwealth Honors College student graduating with degrees in political science and history. Originally from Venezuela, Montilla Jaimes is the first in her family to earn a college degree in the U.S. She served in the Student Government Association, the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, and other campus groups, where she amplified the voices of marginalized students. She researched policies to fight hunger and food insecurity as a Sophomore-Service Scholar. Following her sophomore year, she was selected to participate in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences summer program in Washington, D.C., where she worked in the office of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern. She was selected as a UMass Women into Leadership Fellow her junior year. After a trip to Israel and the West Bank, she founded a student chapter of J Street, an organization that advocates for progressive American foreign policy in the Middle East. As a senior, Montilla Jaimes helped start the Period chapter at UMass and worked on a pilot program to make free menstrual products available across campus and to address period poverty in Massachusetts. Starting this fall, Montilla Jaimes will attend American University’s School of International Service to pursue a master’s degree in ethics, peace, and human rights.
Carolyn Parker-Fairbain of Boston, Mass., earned a degree in Afro-American Studies with minors in theater and history, and a certificate in multicultural theater. At UMass Amherst, Parker-Fairborn focused her talents on the intersections between Black studies and the arts. In her first Department of Theater production, she performed in Baltimore, a play by Kirsten Greenidge. As a junior, she conceived and produced an event as part of the revitalization of New Africa House called “The Cyph,” where creators from the African diasporic community shared their work. As a University Museum of Contemporary Art For Freedoms intern, Parker-Fairbain dedicated herself to expanding student engagement and building a more inclusive space for visitors. To this end, she performed extensive research, supported successful grant proposals, and co-hosted virtual events. She also co-founded The For Freedoms Student Organizing Committee to further encourage liberatory practices in the arts. Her UMass acting experience concluded with Visionary Futures: Science Fiction Theatre for Social Justice Movements. Following graduation, she plans to take some restorative time off.