The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Commonwealth Honors College Celebrates the Class of 2020


On May 7, 2020, Commonwealth Honors College celebrated the Honors graduating class of 2020 in a virtual Celebration of Excellence. The 766 graduates included students from nine countries, twenty-two states, and represented seventy majors. Out of this impressive cohort, over three hundred students chose to complete yearlong Honors Thesis projects in various fields.

The presentation included a student-submitted picture slideshow, convocation messages from Commonwealth Honors College Dean Gretchen Gerzina, student speaker Yuying (Chloe) Zhang, and alumnus and chair of the Commonwealth Honors College Advisory Board, Peter Bloom ’78. It concluded with a presentation of the names of the graduating students, partnered with messages and advice from various Honors faculty, staff, and alumni. 

The opening slideshow included submissions by the graduating class, sharing photographic memories of spending time with their friends, playing sports, studying abroad, and more.

In her message to the class of 2020, Dean Gerzina ensured students that their accomplishments are honorable and celebrated, regardless of the unusual circumstances of graduating during the coronavirus pandemic. She assured students that while social distancing is currently necessary, the Commonwealth Honors College will always be a part of their lives, open for them to return to wherever they go.

“Don’t underestimate, even in these challenging times, how precious and inspiring you are and how much you will continue to achieve,” Dean Gerzina assured the graduates.

In her speech, “After Brushing My Teeth—Then What?,” Chloe Zhang discussed the challenges of navigating life’s uncertainties, reflecting upon her time at the Commonwealth Honors College.

“Whatever your passion may be, your four years of education at UMass Amherst have prepared you with the power to make choices,” Zhang told her fellow graduates.

“Even though choices may seem limited now, you are well equipped with the ability to decide what is next with the knowledge you have gained from UMass,” Zhang continued. “Whenever you feel uncertain, just look back to your experiences at UMass Amherst and remind yourself that you do not need to rush into an answer.”

Alumnus Peter Bloom ’78, a successful businessman and chair of the Commonwealth Honors College Advisory Board, advised students to embrace the “new normal.” Bloom testified to his own experiences adjusting to many new normals. He encouraged graduates that learning fundamental skills in college, such as critical thinking, perseverance, and building connections, is what will allow them to adapt to the world’s changes.

“Yes, this is an unusual time to graduate,” Bloom said. “And yes, these are uncertain times. But all the hard work you’ve put in over the last four years has effectively prepared you for the challenges of the first of many ‘new normals’ that you will have to deal with in your lives.”

University Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy also shared his remarks for Commonwealth Honors graduates.

“I would like to express my sincere admiration for your dedication to academic excellence, your commitment to service, and the resilience you all so clearly demonstrated this spring,” the chancellor said. “Once again, congratulations! And GO, UMASS!”

In Subbaswamy’s congratulatory message, he acknowledged 2020 as Dean Gerzina’s last year with the Honors College, and thanked her for the impact she has had on the Honors community in her five-year term as dean.

In the last video, graduating seniors were listed in order of college. As the video continued, a variety of members of the Honors community—faculty, staff, alumni, and students—presented their advice and congratulations to the graduating class.

“You have resilience like no one else that has walked through this campus in your generation, and it is this resilience that we could never teach you that will make you the greatest of friends,” remarked Professor Rebecca Spencer of the Psychology and Brain Sciences Department. “You will be the best employees and the greatest mentors to those that will follow. Thank you for all that you have taught me about overcoming without wavering and with a smile.”

Included on the Celebration of Excellence web page are student-made presentations of their thesis projects.

“Know that you aren’t walking alone,” Dean Gerzina said when concluding her remarks. “Your time at Commonwealth Honors College will stay with you. Those who have helped you along the way—the faculty in the labs or music studios, the advisors who guided you, the friends who sat with you—they may not be with you physically today, but they are walking with you now.”

To view our complete celebration, please visit our 2020 Celebration of Excellence web page.

The Commonwealth Honors College online Celebration of Excellence was part of a weekend-long UMass Amherst Commencement Celebration.