The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Commonwealth Honors Inducts 682 Students in Virtual Ceremony

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On August 23, 2020, the Commonwealth Honors College inducted 682 first-year and transfer students in a virtual ceremony. The Honors College Induction Ceremony welcomes new students each year as they begin their academic journey at Commonwealth Honors. This year’s inducted class includes students from twenty-five states and twenty-three countries across many academic disciplines.

The ceremony included speeches from students, faculty, and staff from across the university, including Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, Provost John McCarthy, and Commonwealth Honors Dean Mari Castañeda.

“As a member of this community, you have an exceptional opportunity to fully explore your intellectual interests,” Subbaswamy said in an opening statement. “By contributing your voice and truth, you expand and enhance your intellectual environment.”

The UMass Trumpet Studio students followed Subbaswamy’s opening statement, serenading students with an at-home recorded performance.

Provost John McCarthy ensured students that UMass is doing everything in its power to academically support them, no matter where they are located throughout the country and the world. For example, the UMass library system is continuing to develop an extensive online catalogue and will ship books throughout the United States.

“Regardless of where you are, you are now and forever a part of the community that is our university and the Commonwealth Honors College,” McCarthy said. “All of us are committed to providing you with a rich, educational experience despite the pandemic.”

Dean Castañeda then greeted students, family members, and friends to the Honors College.

“In this moment of COVID-19, racial injustice and deepening economic inequalities, it is more imperative than ever for an Honors education to play a role in contributing to the common good in innovative and creative ways,” Castañeda said. “The current pandemic has altered our lives, and as the world rapidly changes, I am confident that our Honors students will be at the forefront of adjusting and adapting to these new realities, and utilizing the moment to create opportunities for positive change in the world.”

Dean Castañeda added that past Honors thesis projects show how diverse the problem-solving ability of an Honors College student can be. She also acknowledged the Indigenous communities of the surrounding area, including the Nonotuck, where the UMass Amherst campus resides.

Wilmore Webley, professor of microbiology and director of pre-medical and pre-dental advising, then delivered his keynote address, “From Carbon to Diamond.” In his speech, Webley compared the incoming student experience during COVID-19 to that of a diamond, describing how immense pressure creates diamonds from carbon.

“None of us enjoys the grinding, the heat, the pressures, the cutting, the polishing, and trials and difficulties of everyday life,” Webley said. “However, it is precisely those things that turn ordinary carbon into precious, shiny diamonds.”

Webley went on to describe “the four C’s of diamonds” that make the stone precious: cut, color, clarity, and carat. Webley created his own four C’s to describe Commonwealth Honors Students: curriculum, community, cultural competence, and character.

“Those who despise the process will remain graphite, turned into cheap lead pencils,” said Webley. “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen endeavor.”

Under the current tough and uncertain circumstances, students may find just the right conditions to transform themselves from carbon to diamond. Webley included an excerpt from “A Diamond in the Rough” by Bradley Ray Wardle. The poem begins:

A diamond in the rough,
is a diamond sure enough:
And before it ever sparkles,
it is made of diamond stuff;

But someone has to find it,
or it never will be found:
And someone has to grind it,
or it never will be ground.

Webley concluded his speech by asking all inductees to find what they love to do and do it to the best of their ability.

“If one is called to be a streetsweeper, they should sweep even as Michelangelo painted,” said Webley. “As a UMass student, do not settle for less than your very best. Success comes when you start doing common things uncommonly well.”

Following Webley, a group of current Commonwealth Honors seniors, including Trust Okorie, Claire Healy, and Emily Wong, reflected on what it means to be a part of the Honors community.

“You’re not just entering UMass Amherst, you’re entering a whole network of people that have made it their goal to support students here,” Healy said. “You’re joining a whole group of students that can inspire you, people that can change your experience for you.”

Okorie, who also serves as a peer advising coordinator at Commonwealth Honors, advocated for students to utilize the many resources the college provides in order to build their own unique college experience.

“As you embark on this new journey, despite the alternate universe we all live in, I urge you to think seriously about your ambitions and goals,” said Okorie. “There are many different ways to mold your Honors experience into the one that’s the best fit for you. Remember, you are the author of your own story—make it worth reading.”

Following student messages, Dean Castañeda encouraged incoming students to take part in the long-lasting Induction tradition of thanking family, friends, and supporters for helping them along the way. She also encouraged family and friends to thank students for their hard work and dedication in getting into Commonwealth Honors.

The event played out with a performance of the UMass fight song by the UMass Marching Band.

“Thank you for choosing to be a part of the Commonwealth Honors community,” concluded Dean Castañeda. “We are so happy that you’re here, and we wish you success and personal fulfillment in the year ahead. Go, UMass!”